Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Words They are Achanging (or at least their meanings)

Since all aspects of life and society are dynamic, it is no surprise that words also evolve in terms of their meaning.  This phenomenon occurs in all languages.  In fact, one of the most amusing aspects of the generation gap is the striking difference in language use and its resulting linguistic confusion.  Sometimes, parents, not to mention grandparents, really don’t understand their children.
A very old example is that wonderful phrase from American history textbooks, the gay 90’s.  It refers to the 1890’s when people were more optimistic and happy, not intimately checking out the same sex more than now.  Readers of 19th century English literature may get the impression that the nobility was enjoying a tremendous amount of sex with all this making love.  In fact, all they were doing, at least in the books, was sending flowers, visiting, and other forms of courting.  Alas, it appears that noble men had to work very hard to gain the privilege of sharing a bed with noble women.
On a more recent note, while, in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the word cool described an autumn evening, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, it referred to wonderful and modern attractions, such as smoking pot, which technically involves heating if you think about it.  Likewise, whereas previous generations thought God was awesome, inspiring reverence, the 1980’s applied the term to more worldly phenomena of a positive nature, such as a really good movie or long touchdown pass.
Technology is strongly affecting connotations of words.  Today’s generation almost automatically thinks of computers when hearing the words mouse and drive.  My grandparents had an entirely different image in their mind of these words.
So, grasping words over your lifetime is like grasping a slippery object:  every time you think you got it, it seems to get away from you.

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