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Essay/Term paper: Acronyms, idioms, and slang- the evolution of the english lan

Essay, term paper, research paper:  College Term Papers

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Acronyms, Idioms and Slang: the Evolution of the English Language.


Although the English language is only 1500 years old, it has evolved
at an incredible rate: so much so, that, at first glance, the average person
in America today would find most Shakespearean literature confusing without
the aid of an Old-English dictionary or Cliff's Notes. Yet Shakespear lived
just 300 years ago! Some are seeing this is a sign of the decline of the
English language, that people are becoming less and less literate. As R.
Walker writes in his essay "Why English Needs Protecting," "the moral and
economic decline of Great Britain in the post-war era has been mirrored by
a decline in the English language and literature." I, however, disagree. It
seems to me that the point of language is to communicate ” to express some
idea or exchange some form of information with someone else. In this sense,
the English language seems, not necessarily to be improving or decaying,
but optimizing ” becoming more efficient.
It has been both said and observed that the technological evolution
of a society tends to grow exponentially rather than linearly. The same can
also be said of the English language. English is evolving on two levels:
culturally and technologically. And both of these are unavoidable. Perhaps
the more noticeable of the two today is the technological evolution of
English. When the current scope of a given language is insufficient to
describe a new concept, invention, or property, then there becomes a
necessity to alter, combine, or create words to provide a needed definition.
For example, the field of Astro-Physics has provided the English language
with such new terms as pulsar, quasar, quark, black hole, photon, neutrino,
positron etc. Similarly, our society has recently be inundated with a
myriad of new terms from the field of Computer Science: motherboard, hard
drive, Internet, megabyte, CD, IDE, SCSI, TCP/IP, WWW, HTTP, DMA, GUI and
literally hundreds of others acronyms this particular field is notorious
for. While some of these terms, such as black hole and hard drive, are just
a combination of pre-existing words, many of them are new words altogether.
To me it seems clear that anything that serves to increase the academic
vocabulary of a society should be welcomed, although not all would agree.
For example, many have accused this trend of creating an acronym for
everything to be impersonal and confusing. And, while I agree that there is
really no need to abbreviate Kentucky Fried Chicken, it does become tiring
to have to constantly say Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) or Transfer
Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) when they are both used so
frequently when dealing with computers on a network. Not only is it futile
for one to reject these inevitably new additions to our language, one would
do oneself well to actually learn them.
The cultural evolution of English is not as distinguishable, nor
seemingly as necessary, as the technological evolution of English, yet it
exists nonetheless. It is on this level that the English language has
primarily been accused of being in a state of decline, specifically by the
incorporation of "slang" into mainstream language. But Webster's Dictionary
defines slang as:

1: language peculiar to a particular group: as a: ARGOT b:
JARGON 2: an informal nonstandard vocabulary composed
typically of coinages, arbitrarily changed words, and
extravagant, forced, or facetious figures of speech.

In this sense, much of what is commonly thought to be proper English can be
said to be slang. When the U.S. declared its independence from England, one
of the things scholars did was change the spelling of certain English words:
colour was changed to color, theatre to theater, etc. In addition, Americans
have, over time, given new names for certain things: what we call a trunk
(of a car), the English call a boot; what we call an apartment, the English
call a flat, etc. But because they have been in use for so long, they are
no longer considered to be slang words. R. Walker writes, "if slang and
jargon are fixed in the language, a process begun by their addition to the
dictionary, it helps to make them official." It seems then, that a word is
slang only if it has not yet been accepted, that it is instead a candidate
whose initiation into the English language is determined by popular opinion
and time.
Slang in America today, while varying from region to region, has one
major theme in common ” it is short. And while history has shown that most
of it will die ” never making official "word" status ” to be replaced by new
slang words, some of it will stay. The word dis (short for disrespect), for
example, has become a popular word used by more than just Generation X.
What's interesting, however, is that even the nature of current everyday
prose has begun to shorten: it is more direct and to the point. As an
example of older-style writing, Stephen Jay Gould, in his essay "Counters
and Cable Cars," writes:

Consequently, in San Francisco this morning, I awoke before
sunrise in order to get my breakfast of Sears's famous eighteen
pancakes (marvel not, they're very small) before the morning
crush of more amenable hours rendered the restaurant uninhabitable
on Berra's maxim.

This piece, while cleverly phrased, has a wordiness to it that would rarely
be found in the average present-day essay. This is not because writers of
today have smaller vocabularies than essayist of yesteryear (although they
might), but rather because there is a much simpler way of saying exactly
what Gould said. Ever since my very first English class, I have been told
that, as a writer, it is my job to get the reader's attention, for I have
something I wish them to read. Furthermore, as a writer, it is also my job
to communicate clearly to my audience. In this respect, why choose one word
that is fairly uncommon (amenable) when other less ambiguous words could be
used. This is not to say that writers should cater to the lowest common
denominator ” the everyday reader should still be held responsible for
developing a reasonable vocabulary. Nevertheless, when a writer uses more
words than are necessary to convey accurately his/her message, he/she has
is doing their message an injustice. Thus, in the writing of today there
can generally be seen a more direct, seemingly less ambiguous tone and
direction (save for the uneducated). The days when it was looked upon
favorably to write in great length and use as many "big" words as were
possible is over. That style, albeit elegant, does not suffice in this
fast-paced society. Acronyms, idioms, and slang are constantly in the
making, providing new, quicker ways for people to convey ideas and exchange
information. English, in the coming century, will inevitably come to focus
more on the actual message than the package it is delivered in. It follows
then, that what be developed in the children of the future, more than
anything else, is their ability to think; to formulate a thought worthy of
sharing. For, no matter what shape the English language takes in coming
years, what will never change is the desire and need our of society to
communicate.

 

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