(Pixabay.com)

(Pixabay.com)

COLUMN: Watching my language as English changes

Words and writing styles have been evolving over the years

The other day, as I was looking through some back issues at the Summerland Review, I noticed once again how much our language and way of writing have changed in recent years.

The news articles and the letters to the editor had a much more formal tone than the writing of today.

Contractions don’t show up too often in writing from earlier decades. Today, they’re much more common.

Still, one writer I respect today is adamant that contractions shouldn’t be used in written English. They’re fine in dialogue, but nowhere else.

I have also read plenty of contemporary fiction and nonfiction where this rule is broken.

The phrase, “excited for,” doesn’t appear in the older newspapers, and I know some writers who avoid it because they believe it should be “excited about.”

READ ALSO: VIDEO: Merriam-Webster declares ‘they’ its 2019 word of the year

READ ALSO: VIDEO: ‘Climate emergency’ is Oxford’s 2019 Word of the Year

But others, especially entertainment writers, have no qualms about “excited for.”

Words like “data” and “plan” were around in the 1920s, but the term “data plan” is something much more recent, describing something that did not exist until quite recently.

Policeman and fireman were common in past decades, but today those words sound archaic. Now we have police officers and firefighters. We also have councillors instead of aldermen.

Even the use of slurs and obscenities has been changing. Some terms, once uttered freely, are no longer spoken, while words once considered offensive can be heard everywhere, and are even finding their way into print.

Each year, when linguists and lexicographers announce their choice for the word of the year, writers will take notice.

Recently, the use of the word “they” came into the conversation as the editors of Merriam-Webster listed it as their word of the year for 2019.

It has become used as an inclusive way to refer to people without making reference to gender.

The word, particularly “they” as a singular term, attracted a lot of attention during the past year.

But this isn’t the first time the singular “they” has received attention.

In 2015, the American Dialect Association selected “they” as their word of the year, since it was coming into use by some who do not use “he” or “she” as their pronouns of choice.

I have heard the singular “they” since the early 1980s, and for many years, the Canadian Press Stylebook — the style guide used by most English-language newspapers in Canada — has allowed “they” as a singular word, but only if there is no other reasonable way to structure a sentence.

The style guide also notes that the singular use of they is increasingly accepted.

Still, quite a few writers believe “they” must always refer to groups of people, never just one person.

However, not all linguists and lexicographers identified “they” as their word of choice last year.

The people at Oxford Dictionaries chose “climate emergency” as their term for 2019.

The term was prominent over the past year. It reflects a shift in dialogue about climate-related discussions.

By the end of this year, Merriam-Webster, Oxford Dictionaries and other organizations will likely select different terms as their word or phrase of the year.

These designations are important because the English language is changing and evolving. New words and changes in meaning are signs that our language is a vibrant and living language, adapting to the needs of its speakers.

I won’t say I’m excited for the choices of “they” and “climate emergency” as words of the year, but that’s only because I dislike the phrase, “excited for.”

However, I will take note when a new word of phrase enters our lexicon, or when the meaning or usage of a familiar word begins to change.

After all, I need to watch my language.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

To report a typo, email:
news@summerlandreview.com
.



news@summerlandreview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

In this handout photo provided by the Philippine Red Cross, families stay at a temporary evacuation center at Catanduanes province, eastern Philippines, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, as Typhoon Goni hits the country. Families living near coastal towns have moved to evacuation centers as the strong typhoon makes landfall. (Philippine Red Cross via AP)
Okanagan community group organizes fundraiser for typhoon-hit Philippines

Over two million people have been affected by flooding, with about 500,000 forced to leave homes

Masks are now officially mandatory in all City of Campbell River facilities. (Black Press File Photo)
Interior Health reports 49 new COVID-19 cases overnight

302 cases remain active; two in hospital

Representatives of Vernon Rotary Clubs, starting left: Angela Yablonski (Vernon Rotary), Dustin Stadnyk (Kalamalka Rotary), and Michael Wardlow (Silver Star Rotary) present the proceeds from fall fundraising to Anna Dawyd and Laurie Postill (Friends of Okanagan Rail Trail) to help create the Northern Gateway to Okanagan Rail Trail. (Contributed)
Rail Trail boosted by North Okanagan Rotary Clubs

More than $7,400 raised to develop gateway at Kilometre Zero

O’Rourkes Peak Cellars is located in Lake Country, B.C. (Contributed)
Lake Country winery temporarily closes due to possible COVID-19 exposure

The establishment plans to reopen on Dec. 4 after a deep clean

BC NDP’s Harwinder Sandhu was officially sworn in as MLA for Vernon-Monashee Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Contributed)
‘I’m truly grateful’: Vernon-Monashee MLA officially sworn in

BC NDP Harwinder Sandhu was officially elected Sunday, Nov. 8 after mail-in ballots were counted

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. daily COVID-19 cases hits record 941 on Tuesday

Further restrictions on indoor exercise take effect

(Pixabay.com)
Man, 28, warned by Kootenay police to stop asking people to marry him

A woman initially reported the incident to police before they discovered others had been popped the question

Winston Blackmore (left) and James Oler (right) were sentenced on separate charges of polygamy this week in Cranbrook Supreme Court.
No more charges expected in Bountiful investigation, special prosecutor says

Special prosecutor says mandate has ended following review of evidence from Bountiful investigations

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Garage in Kelowna burns to the ground, blaze deemed suspicious

Fire crews responded to the scene just after 4:30 p.m.

(Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Refuse to follow B.C.’s mask mandate? Face a $230 fine

Masks are now required to be worn by all British Columbians, 12 years and older

(Ty Hainsworth / Facebook)
No injuries after fire rips through South Okanagan fruit stand

A fruit stand caught fire Tuesday afternoon, closing Highway 97 for two hours

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Damien Smith, with father Thomas Smith, is “frozen” with joy as he watches a special message Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds recorded for Damien’s 9th birthday on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Contributed)
Shuswap boy celebrates 9th birthday with family, community and Ryan Reynolds

People from around the world send birthday cards showing young Canoe resident he’s not alone

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Most Read