For far too long elderly politicians, ageing journalists and cultural tumours such as Katie Hopkins have dismissed Millennials as lazy, gormless, wazzocks with no idea how to pronounce, or write, their beautiful language called English. It is believed, by them, that words such as ‘banter’, ‘wanker’ and even – god forbid – the use of shorthand words borrowed from texting such as ‘CU’ or ‘BRB’, which for our octogenarian readers means ‘see you’, and ‘be right back’ respectively ought to be banned. The older generations simply cannot accept such vulgarity and jump to the conclusion that youngsters who use such words are, most likely, up to no good. That conclusion is often coupled with the assumption that the offender deserves some form of ASBO warning or perhaps a fine. For those of you who would like to refrain yourselves from describing these backwards thinking individuals as being dead from the neck up, then, for the sake of this article, I will simply refer to them as ‘prescriptivists’.
These ‘prescriptivists’ are people who believe that one variety of language is superior to others and should, therefore, be promoted. Ah yes, ‘superiority’ can’t you just smell the links to nationalism. These prescriptivists also believe grammar is a set of explicit rules for using language that is taught or enforced so that people will use the language in a particular way. Again, does it remind you of any particular ideology? **These people critique and live in fear of lexical change not because they think it’s stupid, but because they are scared of being left behind.** It’s thought that almost half of adults today over the age of forty-five find it difficult to understand ‘young people’ and the way in which they communicate [online]. This lack of understanding is partly derived from simply not understanding certain lexical terms like ‘innit’, ‘bear’ and ‘peak’ to totally failing to even grasp the simplest bits of texting language. As sad as it is, I’m afraid there are people in this world who fear lexical change and fail to understand that in order for a society to progress then so does its language.
Luckily for those of us who encourage language change, there are a vast array of kind-spirited, diverse, and like-minded souls who enjoy revelling in the wonders of lexical change and who understand that not only is lexical change a fun and creative manner of expression, but also necessary for societal progress. The reason as to why lexical change is seen as a crucial component in society is because of two words ‘political correctness’. Now, before you UKIP-voting, Wetherspoon-loving prescriptivists decided to turn away, I, too, don’t like the term ‘political correctness’. To me, that term represents censorship and regulation of language. And, to be quite frank, doesn’t that make us, as descriptivist, just as bad as the prescriptivists who like to enforce their rules upon us? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I think political correctness is fantastic in theory, but surely like all good, theories, we must constantly challenge said theory.
The fundamental idea behind political correctness keeps our society out of constant conflict and perpetual rudeness; well, at least some of the time. The idea that political parties forty years ago were allowed to have slogans such as “If you want a nigger for a neighbour vote Labour” and “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration” is frankly disgusting and exasperating. And what makes me even angrier is the fact that those in favour of such slogans tend to be the same people who believe language shouldn’t change. They’re the people who believe that there was once a time (probably the Edwardian era) in which the English Language was perfect and that modern English is rubbish. The fact is: their belief is a load of tosh.
The English Language is, and always will be, in a state of constant flux. It is through sheer brilliance that English crafted politically correct words such to describe minorities in lieu of more offensive slurs. However, this political correctness sheds light on the growing problem of policing the language. Can political correctness go too far? It’s fantastic that we have words which help rid the world of derogatory slang, but would anyone want to live in a world where people routinely say ‘niceness deprived’ instead of ‘evil’ or perhaps ‘metabolically challenged’ instead of dead. I mean, I do like lexical change but, I don’t want a complete revolution.
The world of social media and technology is also responsible for the emergence of new words. These new words are known as ‘neologisms’. Words coined on account of a particular event, ‘Brexit’; or are internet based via the wonders of social media with words like ‘app’ and ‘troll’. This is the beauty of lexical change: it relies on no accident or faults of our own but, in fact, our intelligence and capability to come up with new trendy words that hopefully catch on and become fashionable because at the end of the day it’s only the most popular neologisms that end up staying on. In all honesty, how long is the word ‘bremoaner’ going to carry on for? It’s all about popularity and examples of popular culture neologisms include ‘Brangelina’ which of course is the name of two pampered, A-list celebrities as well as ‘muffin top’ which refers to a roll of fat that appears on top of trousers that feature a low waist.
The term ‘Feminism’ also gets thrown around when it comes to lexical change especially in the case of gender-neutral words. For many years now, women have been stuck in the back seat when it comes to English. They have felt as though society English is somewhat against them and that their male counterparts are the dominant factor which cannot be replaced. Well, this might no longer be the case as, over the past decade, a surge in gender-neutral terms disrupting – for the better – our vocabulary. It’s fantastic that we can now have a ‘chairperson’ rather than a ‘chairman’; It’s fantastic that we can now have an ‘actor’ instead of ‘actress’, and it’s fantastic that we now have a ‘flight attendant’ instead of a ‘steward or stewardess’ but my other question still remains: Will our attitudes about those jobs and roles change? I hate to say it but I don’t think so.
Language, like nature, relies on certain parts becoming extinct. Either as the word naturally falls out of use, or because there is simply no need for the word in modern society. Repurposing in some ways has saved certain words from being taken to the scrap heap. One word, in particular, is ‘tablet’. Tablet, of course, still might mean ‘a slab of stone which is used to make inscriptions on’ but, since it’s the 21st century, the more likely meaning is: ‘an electronic device which now appears to dominate our lives’.
Lexical change will continue indefinitely. English-speaking societies may never quite know to what extent our language will change, but that’s part of its beauty. I take issue with prescriptivists not just because I think they’re wrong but because their view is woefully outdated, boring and bleak. It’s 2017 no 1717; get with the times.