Man in 2016: “Could you Facebook me that selfie of us asap?”
Man in 1916: “Could I what you that what of us what?!”
Once upon a time, “text” was only a noun, “tweet” was just something birds did, and there was no such thing as a “selfie”. Now we tweet, text, sext and take selfies. And omg, it’s totes amazeballs.
Over the last fifty years, the rapid development of communications technology has spurred the evolution of the English language. Nowadays we are connected to millions of people across the world via social media platforms, and the very nature of these platforms being social means we tend to use less formal language. This allows informal words and abbreviations to spread globally at an unprecedented rate.
“Text” is now a verb, so we’ve created the present tense “texting” to go with it. “Unlike” has also become a verb. You can now “unlike” people’s videos, statuses and pages. Talking of “statuses” and “pages”, no longer is a status just to do with someone’s position or social standing, or a page just something you find in a book. Facebook’s given us a new type of “wall”, and a “troll” is no longer just an ugly cave-dwelling creature from Norse folklore.
But these are just a few existing words that we’ve added new meanings to. Social media has provoked the coinage of whole new words, too. Things like “unfriend”, “selfie”, “hashtag”, “amazeballs” and “bestie”.
And that’s not forgetting all the abbreviations and informal shortenings that we use to speed up our messaging, but are now using in speech more and more. Things like “tbh” instead of “to be honest”, “omg” instead of “oh my god” and “asap” instead of “as soon as possible”. “Lol” for “laugh out loud” is one of the oldest and most common ones — that came about in the early days of texting. Then there’s “totes” for “totally”, “obvs” for “obviously” and “maybs” for “maybe”.
But how long until “obvs” actually replaces “obviously”? How long till we forget what “lol” and “asap” used to mean? There is precedent for it. Scuba diving, for instance. Did you know that “scuba” actually originates from an acronym meaning “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus”? Thought not!
With the internet and an overabundance of communication channels offering immediate interaction with global audiences, it’s never been easier to help a new word gain traction from your sofa. With that in mind, it will be very interesting to see what our language looks like in a hundred years’ time.
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