I am fascinated by the English language. It’s not solely because I struggle every day to put words into a sensible pattern in order to adequately express a sentiment or idea, though that’s certainly a part of it.
Nor is it coming from a place of some kind of “linguistic superiority” that causes me to believe English is clearly a better language than all others. On the contrary, English is a somewhat ridiculous language if you think about it — with ever-changing rules regarding pronunciation and the baffling array of homonyms, synonyms, antonyms and, um, cinnamons? No, that can’t be right.
Regardless, English doesn’t make a ton of sense on the surface, and it’s reportedly one of the hardest languages to learn (though my grades in high school German could lead one to believe that German is, in fact, a much more daunting challenge). We have letters in our alphabet that make different sounds, and grammatical rules like “i” before “e” except after, “c,” unless it’s “neither” or “beige” or “neighbor” or “eight” or “feign” or...
But I digress.
English is not an easy language to master. Don’t believe me? Take a walk through Facebook comments someday. Go ahead. I dare you. Get yourself past the now-widely-accepted abbreviations and acronyms that have become part of the online lexicon, and dive into what are supposed to be thoughtful and intelligent contributions to a serious discussion.
It will make your head hurt. It will make your soul cry out in anguish. It will make it feel like you have a burning desire to pack up your stuff and run away from their... or, they’re... or, there? Whatever. It’s painful.
So, no, I’m not going to plant my flag and claim that English is a vastly superior language to all others. If the goal of language is to clearly convey a thought or idea to another, then English and its many rules can often come up short.
However, there is one thing that makes English very cool (do people still say, “Cool?”). It morphs and conforms to reflect the times in which we live. It was largely constructed in origin by combining elements from older languages, and it continues to adapt to changing times.
For example, Kennedy Mitchum of Missouri was not a fan of how the word “racism” was being described in the vaunted Merriam-Webster dictionary, so she sent them an email, per a story on chicago.cbslocal.com.
She felt that the current definition described prejudice more than a systematic racism, and sent off that email. The next day, to her surprise, she received an email back from editor Alex Chambers, who thanked Mitchum for her suggestion and informed her that there would be a change in the next update — something that happens two or three times a year. Mitchum said she appreciated them taking her concerns seriously, and that there would be a change.
“I was super happy because I really felt like that was a step in a good direction for a lot of positive change for a lot of different positive conversations that can really help change the world and helps change how people view things,” she explained.
Merriam-Webster just did an update in April, adding in words that had become part of everyday language since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. You know, terms such as “self-isolate,” “forehead thermometer,” “physical distancing” and “contactless,” according to their website.
We’ve also seen technology birth many new words and terms over the last three decades or so, and this year is no different for the people at Merriam-Webster. They’ve included “deepfake” — an image or recording that has been convincingly altered and manipulated to misrepresent something or someone. And “dark web” — pages on the World Wide Web that are not indexed by search engines and not viewable in a standard web browser.
Perhaps my favorite new addition in the April update is “truthiness” — a seemingly truthful quality not supported by facts or evidence. So, if I’m reading this correctly, “truthiness” means you can just say whatever you want as long as it could maybe probably might be real.
Where was this word when I was trying to get out of trouble as a kid? My mom just saw what I said as “falsiness.”