The Language Of A New Age

“How do you do. This is a new column about language.” First spoken by the late William Safire, these words welcomed an era of speculation and admiration for popular etymology and word origin. Mr. Safire was a long-time political columnist for the New York Times and a regular contributor to “On Language” in the New York Times Magazine. He introduced me to the world of linguistics with everything from his humorous discoveries of newborn phrases like “aha moments,” to the exploration of “Zombie,” to curiosity towards the absence of a hand gesture for “Thank You.” As a tribute to the “Language Maven” (the title Safire coined for himself), I present recent studies of my own: the new slang of my generation and the everyday jargon of Andover. Within the past few years, many words have come to my attention. These are words that teenagers exchange readily without full knowledge of the word’s origin. In an age of social networks, the children of the Internet have established an entirely new language. For instance, before Facebook, did we ever use “friend” to describe an action? What does it mean to friend somebody? I can befriend someone, but rarely do I find myself friending them. However, by clicking “Add as Friend,” we are consequently “friending” our companions. Similarly, the Twitter nation has made use of “follow” to suggest interaction between two fellow members. Most commonly used to define the act of “travelling behind” or “to comply with the rules”, the action of following has found a new meaning: stalking. But my favorite online verb is “Facebook chat.” To “Facebook chat” is simply to talk to someone on the online messenger provided by the network. Yet do all our words remain under the heading of online lingo? Not quite. Many terms have seeped into our lexicons by way of adaptation or convenience, or perhaps for the lack of a better word. Now one of the most widely used terms of contempt, “Fail” has immediately garnered a blog dedicated to its application. In reality, many of us fear failure in and out of the classroom. Yet with this new term, many of us fail every day, and we don’t seem to mind it when we do. Rather than be called a failure by others, we have become so comfortable with the word that we casually address our own ineptitudes, laughing and crying “FAIL!” if we go as far as dropping a textbook in mid-walk or knocking over a saltshaker at the lunch table. The immense popularity of “Fail” has even led to the initiation of different levels of incompetence, such as the “semi-fail” or the beloved “epic fail.” To commit an epic fail is to shape history. Likewise, not only can I be “owned” by my opponent, but I can also be “pwned,” a rare annihilation that transcends basic defeat. Other words such as “tight” rely solely on context or intonation. Naturally, something that is tight is held closely together. Informally however, to be “tight” is also to be close to friends or to be pretty cool. Some people also tend to use terms like “tight” more repeatedly than others do. This leads me to question the whereabouts of the line that divides the users of certain terminology. More specifically, this leads me to wonder why certain words seem more prevalent in individual regions or places, particularly Andover. I did not have to go overseas to immerse myself in a different culture. Throughout my short time at Andover, I have encountered a plethora of new terms. Mostly adjectives, the words “mad,” “wicked” and “solid” are all foreign to my southern ears. Prior to my arrival, “mad” meant angry, “wicked” was a Broadway musical and “solid” represented an object of a single hue or the opposite of hollow. Not everyone uses this exotic trilogy, but many students do. Therefore, are “mad”, “wicked”, and “solid” geographically related? Why have I never heard them used in Texas? I have always wondered about the birth of words and their sequential dispersion throughout society. Why are some words more widespread than others, and why are some more exclusive? I like to think that the use of a word is a conscious decision. An adapted accent may be involuntary, but I feel that whether or not the language spoken is intentional tends to be a debatable issue. A couple of my friends have already jumped on the bandwagon, using terms they have absorbed on campus. I have yet to say “wicked” or “solid” because the words do not come to mind during conversation. It would take more effort for me to merge the terms with my preexisting vocabulary than to potentially adopt one or two overtime. Cammy Brandfield-Harvey is a new Upper from Houston, TX.