be on fleek or not
survival of the fittest
Darwin’s law prevails
senryu by M. LaFreniere
Words flicker into existence all the time. Sometimes they are familiar words combined together like “bromance”. Words can be shortened into “bestie” which this September made into Scrabble’s dictionary of official words. Sometimes they are old words with a fresh new meaning.
New words are often coined by scientists, magazine writers and teenagers. Reddit even has a thread of people hungering to put their claim of fame to a new word. You’ll often hear neologisms slandered as slang or jargon.
Whereas centuries ago new words traveled slowly through word of mouth as people walked or rode across nations, the invention of Gutenberg’s wonderful press made it easier to introduce new words to a much greater number of people at the same time. The Chinese did invent the press and I imagine it was helpful to set the forms of their pictographic alphabet. China has many dialects so words don’t sound the same in different regions but they are spelled the same. So if one person doesn’t understand a word, the other person can finger write the Chinese character on their palm to be understood. Imagine someone writing “dream” with a few strokes on your palm. Isn’t that cool?
Even back with the first book hot off of Gutenberg’s press, people were arguing which words should be official and unhappy when their favorites didn’t make it into the first dictionary. Later, magazines trucked into newstands spread neologisms across nations. Television sped up the process as tv shows and newscasters spread words like confetti. Now with web videos, Instagram and Twitter, neophyte words flutter by at the speed of light triggering angry tirades at the current state of English. Funny thing though is that tirade has been going on for centuries. Apparently words may change but not the expectations of how they should remain the same.
What does it mean? How do we keep up? We don’t. It’s the same as when you were a kid and now. If you hear a new word in context, understand it and find it resonates with you, you will use it. If you don’t like the neologism, for whatever reason, you won’t. You’ll forget it, google it, be confused by it or perhaps rant against it. Eventually the dictionary publishers will notice the toddling word and decide if they wish to nurture it or hope it dies a quick death.
Some dictionaries allow definitions to be crowd sourced. The Urban Dictionary carries rants as definitions against new words like “fleek” that offended someone’s sensibility so that you have to scroll down to see how people have defined that neologism with serious thought. But it doesn’t matter. A word survives not because you like it or not. It survives because enough people feel it conveys a meaning that their particular audience will understand.
It’s not about numbers either. Many words, especially in the sciences, are understood by a handful of people educated in those specific words. Other people disdainfully call those terms jargon. Go read a science journal and see if it’s not gobbledygook to you. Yet those same obscure terms make a lot of sense to scientists in that field ensuring the survival of the word. A surprising number make it into mainstream vocabulary. Are you feeling a psychosomatic migraine at the notion?
Darwin’s Law says species are constantly mutating, creating new specimens. Words do that too. Darwin says survival of the fittest predicts survival. For words, fittest means most successful at communication. Is the word useful? Does it communicate successfully to your listeners or readers? Whether your audience is a scientist or a teenager, words chosen to convey meaning must be understood. Will the word continue to be understood or will it’s meaning change? A word’s survival and each single meaning connected to the word depends on whether it continues to be understood over time.
“Nimrod” used to mean best of the hunters; now it means idiot. Words serve a community needs. If they don’t, they change or they die. “Nimrod” survived but not the initial meaning. Our society doesn’t need a lot of hunters any more but we do have a lot of idiots. I mean seriously. Twitter as a valid news source? Politicians “tweet” one liners as if it’s policy. The twits just make me titter.
Words are born everyday and they die everyday. Most quietly without anyone noticing. A few with a grand storm of viral infection and a melodramatic death. Words are words. I love them all. Not equally, mind you, but each has their use.
What new word do you rejoice in? Or what disappearing old word do you mourn the passing of?
The Ragtag Daily Prompt now has it’s own blog site called the “Ragtag Community“. Each day of the week a prompt is presented by a different person. Come and participate by posting writing or images evoked by the word and add your pingback or link to the comments there. Hope to see you at Ragtag Community!