As Language Evolves, Should You Follow The Trends?

dictionary_new_wordsLanguage continually evolves. At this time of year in particular, we consider words that have emerged to describe new fields, new products or new phenomena.

The Oxford English Dictionary listed 1,346 new words as of September 2016. Yikes!

Merriam-Webster has introduced new words and slang from 2016. Submitted by the public, some are clever and useful, others are simply silly, and some are grammatically unsound.

Here is a sampling:

double double (noun): coffee with two creams and two sugars

pronunciate (verb): pronounce
(don’t confuse pronunciate with the noun pronunciation, which means the way a word is pronounced)

bromaid (noun): a man who serves as a bridesmaid
(bromance, a close but nonsexual relationship for two men, has been around for years)

twitterrhea (noun): excessive use of Twitter

constracted (adjective): confused and distracted

stealth-geek (noun): one who hides nerdy interests while maintaining a normal outward appearance

ginormous (noun): huge or very big

I’ve seen or heard some of these, and I’ll bet you have as well.

Some new words — and new uses for existing words — are haphazard and disconcerting to careful writers as well as to ruthless editors. When usage appears to change, we can end up with a lack of distinction between words. The result: unclear communication.

Consider these often-misused words that are anything but new to our lexicon:
anxious / eager  |  ensure / insure  |  farther /  further  |  less / fewer  |  wreak / wreck

I’m anxious (feeling anxiety or unease) about my performance review, but I’m eager (have a keen interest or desire) to have it behind me.

To ensure (make certain) that your children can be seen by a doctor when they are sick, your employer will insure (secure insurance coverage for) your entire family.

The farther (greater distance) they walked, the further (greater extent) engrossed they became in conversation.

Your father will wreak (cause or inflict harm, sometimes as vengeance) havoc if you wreck (destroy or badly damage) his new sports car.

Fewer (things you can count) people signed up for the banquet, so we’ll need less (uncountable in terms of number) food than we had planned.

When professional writers or speakers — those who are paid for their skills and expertise — diverge from conventional word usage, some people begin to imitate it. Eventually, what once was wrong or unacceptable usage becomes right (in some circles), or what meant one thing now means something else.

In addition to the risk of unclear communication, using unconventional words or using existing words in an unconventional way could reflect poorly on you: You might be considered uninformed.

I don’t condemn using new words or applying new meanings to existing words, but I do encourage you to consider your readers or listeners. I’ve often said that when it comes to language, I prefer not to be on the forefront of change. In matters of words and clear communication, I agree with Andrew Alden:

Before speaking, consider the interpretation of your words as well as their intent.

Have you set a goal to improve your communication skills in 2017?

Sales and customer service training guru Jeffrey Gitomer says:

Your grammar is a reflection of your image. Good or bad, you have made an impression. And like all impressions, you are in total control.

Following this blog will help.

Another good source for word use and misuse, when and what to capitalize, and how to use punctuation is my Grammar for People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips from The Ruthless Editor.

New words emerge, and meanings of existing words evolve. Staying abreast of the changes is both fun and wise.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)