Language, like all natural things, is ever evolving. The way we speak and write today differs vastly from how people strung words together even a few short generations ago. “Four score” becomes “80,” trendy sayings displace dated idioms. Keystrokes supplant cursive. New replaces old.
I came of age before the ubiquity of the home computer but have teenage kids with symbiotic relationships with their phones. The letters my grandparents hand wrote to me as a boy are as perplexing and unknowable to them as their acronym-laden Snapchats are to me.
Other changes to language happen organically as new words and phrases enter our lexicon and become commonplace with use. Each year, a few of these words are given the ultimate etymological honor and are officially added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. While often whimsical—see dad bod, FTW, amirite, and the decades-overdue fluffernutter—the list is an insightful window into the world we live in, with entries that reflect the social, political and cultural issues shaping our planet in real time.
Unsurprisingly, a number of our newest words are COVID-19-related. Super-spreader is now preserved in the dictionary, forever there to remind us of the global pandemic we’ll hopefully soon be on the other side of. Meanwhile, the newly added teraflop and zero-day reflect not only our most cutting-edge technological advancements but, inevitably, the ways in which they will be exploited for ill-use.
Meanwhile, editors at Lake Superior State University balance the ledger each year by banishing overused words and phrases. So, while we may be stuck with vaccine passport, we can say goodbye (tongue firmly in cheek) to eye-rollers like deep dive, asking for a friend, and new normal, all ceremoniously tossed onto the fire along with nothingburger, optics, and influencer from previous years.
And, reigning over all other lesser words, is the American Dialect Society’s (ADS) “Word of the Year.” Announced each January, the ADS word seems to be chosen purely on the criteria of ubiquity: insurrection is 2021’s word, taking up the mantle from 2020’s Covid.
It's all in fun, of course. And why shouldn’t it be? Language should be celebrated. It’s the glue that binds society and the tool that bridges culture. Language is a currency (“coin a phrase,” anyone?) that, to paraphrase the devotional poet George Herbert, costs nothing yet is worth everything.
But as any successful business can tell you, the right words are invaluable. Maintaining clear and honest communication with your clients, customers, or stakeholders is the easiest way to build trust and forge the types of relationships that stand the test of time.
Language evolves and phrases come and go to suit the times, but there is one, unyielding truth first written down by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu more than two millennia ago: words become actions.
Lao Tzu FTW! Amirite?
As a writer, Clay Carrington supports LMD’s work with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) using his twenty years of technical writing experience to distill complex topics into informative, clear content. Clay also has scriptwriting and production experience, and has developed successful marketing, social media, and branding strategies.