The words in our language

“How was your staycation?” my student asked her colleague.
“It was relaxing,” he answered.

Another young woman sitting next to him raised her hand. “What did you say? What was it?” “stey-key-shun?”
He replied, “Ah.. you were not with us last year. Staycation means vacation spent at home doing something you enjoy. In the beginning, I also thought it sounded funny.”

Then he added, “holiday in UK and vacation in US English.”

I couldn’t help smiling and was glad that my student remembered something from our previous course. Languages evolve, appear and disappear to adapt and cater to the changing needs and developments (e.g. technology) in our society. Often, new words are created by: 1) putting together letters from 2 different words (e.g. ‘Brexit’ – British/Britain’s exit from the European Union. There’s a referendum on this issue in June 2016); 2) shortening words (e.g. company representative = company rep); 3) borrowing from other languages (e.g. French ‘chef’ – cook); and 4) even from mistakes or words of celebrities (e.g. Gwyneth Paltrow’s conscious uncoupling which describes divorcing or separating couple who find the source of unhappiness in themselves and refrain from blaming each other).

According to Betty Birner, many changes in a language begin with teens and youngsters. As young people interact with each others, their language grows to include words, phrases and constructions that are different from those of the older generation. Some of these new words and phrases have a short life span, but others remain and impact the way we speak and write (http://www.linguisticsociety.org/content/english-changing).

Three of the new words I recently saw in https://dictionaryblog.cambridge.org/2016/02/08/new-words-8-february-2016/ are: farecasting (noun) predicting the optimum date to buy a plane ticket, especially on a website or using an application; unsend (noun) – deleting an email after it has been sent; and digital diet (noun) – deliberate reduction in the amount of time spent on the Internet.

Hangry (a combination of hungry and angry, i.e. feeling irritable due to hunger) has been added to OxfordDictionaries.com. According to this website, if you want to talk about an adequate sauce for a tasty meal, you can use “awesomesauce.” If you had been disappointed standing in a moving passenger bus while someone occupied two spaces, you could have told him to stop manspreading (sitting with his legs wide apart encroaching on an adjacent seat or seats depriving other passenger/s of their seats. (http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2015/08/new-words-update)

Sometime last year, I saw an online newspaper article that used Mx. (as a gender-neutral title) in the same way as Mr., Miss, Mrs. and Ms. before a person’s name.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from my Aussie friend with a Youtube link of Mr. George Carlin (1937 -2008), an American comedian who coined “soft language” to describe euphemistic words and phrases that, according to him, are used to conceal reality or truth. Some euphemisms he mentioned have actually become politically-correct words, e.g. physically-challenged instead of crippled, visually-impaired for blind, and individuals with learning disorder for “stupid” (his word) person.

I can’t tell you which of this year’s new words will remain in the English language and how long for. Hence, I suggest you stick to established English words and phrases, either British or American, appropriate to the situation.

Likewise, we should avoid the widespread use of jargon (specialised language often used by experts, business people, company staff and bureaucrats) because we communicate to understand and be understood, and not to impress. I’m an avid fan of Plain English (or any language) – i.e. clear, simple and direct, both in oral and written forms.

Happy Labour (US – labor) Day!