How language changes

I’ve been thinking about whether to include slang in my books. Which got me thinking about whether slang is even the issue. After all, all the language we use dates us to a certain extent: language evolves with culture.

I’ve read books that seemed timeless until I hit a word or a phrase that jarred. Rudoph Dreikurs, for example, wrote about democracy and race relations using the term ‘Negro’ which was popular in the 1960s but has been long out of fashion.

I have a set of Grolier’s Encyclopedias on my bookshelf (an academic prize from the 1970s) that refers to the Six Nation Iroquois as ‘savages.’

And then think of contemporary words like Google, tweet and Twitter that have popped into the lexicon but which will someday, no doubt, seem rather quaint as other technology surpasses them. One need only read Shakespeare to see how much language evolves over time.

Yes, language changes. And sometimes quickly. Sadly, I think (since I think the man is in need of some serious medical treatment), it appears that ‘sheening‘ has now joined the list, complete with a dictionary meaning that involves ‘making a ridiculous public defence.’ The editor of the Black’s Law Dictionary adds that ‘pulling a sheen’ or the name Charlie Sheen itself will likely “spawn one or more meanings besides getting drunk.”

I don’t think that ‘sheen’ will find its way into my books anytime soon: they are set in 2006 and 2007, long before the meltdown. But I’m going to try to pay attention to the other words that may slip in and ‘date’ me as the writer perhaps more than the book. Can you think of other examples?

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2 Responses to How language changes

  1. 1959duke says:

    I tudor a student from Sudan and there are times I will use a slang word and I have learned I need to be careful about that. Its so easy to fall into those words.


    • Peggy Blair says:

      They also change so quickly that I think they can really date our writing. Even cursing has changed — read any book from the 40s and compare it to now. And yet there are books that are timeless, like The Chrysalids or To Kill a Mockingbird. Almost a course in itself!


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