The English language has never been afraid to embrace change over the years – and today is no different.
It is constantly evolving, refusing to stand still, as it bids to keep pace with an increasingly influential society.
We therefore frequently encounter new words, almost on a daily basis, much to the annoyance of linguistic purists, who would rather use words of native origin instead of foreign-derived ones or those coined from modern advances.
Adorbs, binge-watch, humblebrag, listicle, neckbeard, side-boob, vape and yolo are just some of the latest entries to be added to OxfordDictionaries.com in its most recent quarterly update, offering an insight into current language usage trends.
Yolo, an acronym of You Only Live Once, is a particular favourite among teenagers at present, while binge-watch has steadily come to the fore over the past couple of years following the release of popular TV shows such as House of Cards and Breaking Bad.
Listicle, on the other hand, is an internet article presented in the form of a numbered or bullet-pointed list.
Influence of technology
Technology continues to have a strong influence on the English language.
New entries to OxfordDictionaries.com including acquihire, clickbait, Deep Web, dox, fast follower, geocache, in silico, octocopter, responsive, smartwatch and tech-savvy are testament to this impact on our lexicon.
Below we take a look at some of them in more detail.
- Acquihire – Mergers and acquisitions happen in the world of business all the time. Acquihire refers to a start-up being bought by a company for its workforce rather than its products or services.
- Geocache – Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.
- Octocopter – An octocopter is a rotorcraft with more than two rotors that is designed to carry heavy items. The vehicle motion is controlled by varying the speed by each rotor in order to change the thrust and torque.
- Tech-savvy – Someone who knows a lot about modern technology, particularly computers, is described as tech-savvy. They are more than proficient when it comes to navigating and using typical computer programs for a given task or project.
Even the term vape has risen to prominence through the use of technology, or e-cigarettes to be precise. These electronic devices enable people to inhale smokeless nicotine vapour as opposed to smoking actual cigarettes.
But despite the fact that e-cigarettes were not commercially available until the 21st century, the word vaping dates to 1983, when it was used to describe a hypothetical smoking device being considered at the time.
It is therefore clear to see the dominant role that technology plays in our everyday lives. It has effectively ripped up the rule book when it comes to communication and changed the English language forever.
Growth of the internet and mobile phones
The way we speak today is, by and large, pretty much the same way we spoke before technology really took off.
What has changed, however, is the way we write. This is where technology has had the biggest impact. Modern advances such as the internet and mobile phones have been at the heart of this transformation.
Emails have completely altered the structure of the letter as a communicative tool.
A whole new etiquette and new conventions have been created, not to mention a long list of new abbreviations like IMO (in my opinion), FWIW (for what it’s worth), FYI (for your information) and LOL (laugh out loud).
The internet has also shifted the meaning of well-known words – bookmark, surf, spam and web – and dramatically expanded our vocabularies to accommodate new terms that a decade ago would have made no sense whatsoever.
For example, the verb ‘to google’, or look something up on a search engine, is commonly used in modern society, as is the noun ‘app’, which is used to describe programmes to download for smartphones.
Mobile phone usage has perhaps had the biggest influence on the English language.
The rate and extent of change has been remarkable since the devices first burst onto the scene over two decades ago.
In fact, the format of text messaging is now so widely accepted that it has even infiltrated mainstream advertising, with companies keen to ‘get down wiv da kidz’ in a bid to attract new customers.
Teachers, however, have expressed concern that text language – otherwise known as Short Message Service (SMS) language – is suffocating the English language to the point that it can no longer breathe.
Impact of foreign languages
But not all words enter the English language as slang. Some are adopted from foreign languages around the world.
French, for example, is one of the most common foreign language influences on English. A huge portion of our dictionary comes from across the Channel, yet much of it has been modified over the years.
The Norman invasion of 1066 saw thousands of words make the transition from French to English. A large portion of them are still in use today across pretty much every domain, from government and law to art and literature.
Army, for instance, originated from armée, while soldiers, marines and pilots were also adapted from French equivalents. Commandant, bourgeois, bureau and laissez-faire are more recent examples to have made the move following historical events like when the English nobility retreated to France in the middle of the 17th century, as well as the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century.
Spanish is another language that has had a big influence on English as we know it.
Sherry – fortified wine made from white grapes – is considered to be one of the first Spanish words to infiltrate English, happening towards the end of the 16th century. Its origins come from Jerez, formerly Xerez.
Other terms like cafeteria, fiesta, enchiladas, paella, senorita, sangria, salsa, rumba, merengue, hurricane, embargo, cargo and barricade have all made the transition in the years since, plus many, many more.