by Ralph Greco, Jr.
As I am still pondering the New Year and the possibilities it’s worth taking a look at Merriam-Webster list of New Dictionary Words. They added 455 of them. As the venerable, well-known word definer claims, “Just as the language never stops evolving, the dictionary never stops expanding. New terms and new uses for existing terms are the constant in a living language, and our latest list brings together both new and likely familiar words that have shown extensive and established use.” But from what I see in this listing, I’d replace the word ‘evolving’ with one I appropriate from DEVO, and that I come to use more and more when describing us all in this modern age: I believe our language—how we speak it, write it and generally use it—is actually “de-evolving.“
It’s not that I am so bothered by the addition of words like “super-spreader” or “vaccine passport” coming into existence from what the world has been through the past few years. Or the use of the word “astroturf,” in its non-capitalized form (and therefore free of its trademark) describing any kind of political movement—campaign, effort, or collective—that appear to have evolved (there’s that damn word again!) in a grassroots manner but were actually created in no organic way at all. Nor do I even really bristle against a word like “dad-bod,” describing what culture considers the run-of-the-mill physique of a typical dad, unless there is no term similar for moms (we must be especially fair these days, what’s pejorative for the gander should be so for the goose, and all that). But as someone who ekes out my meager existence from writing, I take umbrage, and I have been taking the big ‘U’ now for the past decade, with old Merriam W. adding words like “amirite,” which is slang for “am I right” or abbreviations like “THB,” ‘to be honest’ making it in. Actually, THB made it in because of this shortcut’s widespread usage in social media and text messaging.
That a term makes it on the new word list because it is used in texting or social media, two of the most surely destructive elements to speaking and writing is just too ludicrous to address.
I guess, though, I just did address it, huh?
Having our text programs offer words ahead of what we are typing, to how many times I get an emoji or a “like” back in reply to a text I send, to how even I flip messages off to friends and co-workers that contain misspelled words or numbers instead of words, ala Prince with a “2” meaning to, to my Grammarly program, which I indeed fed this article through, alerting me that I am using words “a knowledgeable audience might find this sentence hard to read” (might this mean Grammarly’s audience aren’t as knowledgeable as Grammarly thinks?) to us all growing so lazy that we’d think the word amirite (not to be confused with Amorite, an ancient Levant tribe) would be alright to use, we are in trouble my little droogs. It sounds a bit ‘Medievalism’ or further back …consider – ‘Dark Ages’ or more ancient.
And worse yet, because even an institution like Merriam Webster doesn’t catch on.
The more I realize most of the people around me don’t care that the latest selfie from a self-appointed Youtube “influencer” makes my daily net newsfeed right alongside the latest tally of COVID or a description of a daily mall shooting. And that I hear so much use of the Auto-Tune audio processor spilled across the vocals of modern-day singers that it no longer registers to my ears as an effect that a majority of the live theatre community, which I used to step out into to write reviews for catching both Broadway and off-Broadway reviews (yes, I live a mere twenty minutes of New York City), believe that Zoom theatre performances could in any way count as ‘live’ theatre, to…
Best not to get me started.
But I find myself falling on one of two sides of the aisle about all this.
Either I am an old curmudgeon, well past my usefulness to the world, pining for a bygone age, drowning under the tsunami of the new, as all old men have done and will continue to be for the rest of time. Or there is really something wrong with the world today?
Amirite or amirong?