A way, or away with words?

Just chill, it’s cool for language to change

So it’s time to ‘fess up. Are you totally cool with the way we speak? The way it’s like, changing? The way we’re like, giving words we’ve known all our lives a different, or additional meaning? And putting them in different places in a sentence? Like, at the start, for example. Is that weird or what? It’s cool. But if you’re not cool with it, it’s still cool. Don’t stress. Chill.

Take a chill pill. It’s actually totally cool, because, like, language has always changed. Evolved. For centuries. Forever. It’s developed. Moved with the times, even without most peeps even noticing. And that is sick. That’s sick in a good way, of course, not bad. Well, it is bad, but that’s bad in a good way, too. Not a bad way. It’s all good. Like, to be totally clear, it’s out there. It’s extra. Totally extra. Are we cool? Cool. Because it’s, like, a really big ask for anyone who totally doesn’t get it to get it.

Any or all of the above words or phrases are likely to be used, occasionally or often, by most generational groups from Baby Boomers downwards as the English language changes by the day. For teenagers, there is an additional new slang language, comprising wholly invented words or acronyms, influenced or inspired by Netflix, social media and streaming outlets.

But for the rest of us it’s enough just coping with and accepting – or not – the changed usage of words. For instance, when exactly did “ask” become a noun? During the last century it was Americanisms that most influenced spoken English on these shores. But as the UK becomes more multicultural, new voices add to what we say and the way we say it. “Cool” is probably the word with additional meanings that has been around for longest.

Once it meant something low in temperature: “The water was cool and refreshing”, or was used to describe temperament, with Shakespeare writing, “More than cool reason ever comprehends,” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But in 1930’s America, cool began appearing as an expression meaning “extremely good”. Since then, the word’s range has extended to include correct, perfectly acceptable, intellectually assured, physically attractive, aesthetically rewarding and fashionable, to mention but a few.

Cool has been around for so long that for the very coolest, it’s sometimes uncool to say cool. Other more recent Americanisms include “chill” and “sick” – which, as illustrated above, can mean extremely cool! Confused? Maybe you’re showing your age. And anyway, does any of this matter? We lose words as well as gain them.

No one uses “verily” anymore, we say truly or certainly instead. And “forsooth”, meaning indeed, has long disappeared. On the other hand, perhaps some words once in common use but now long gone should still be with us. There’s “maw-worm” for example, a nineteenth century word meaning, “one who insists they have done nothing wrong, despite evidence to the contrary”. Maybe “maw-worm” is due a twenty-first century comeback.

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