Archive for the ‘the evolution of words’ Category

When we hear or see the world “alien” the first thing that usually comes to mind is an outer space creature like ET. Next the concept of “strange” as in “this is an alien food recipe might pop into our minds.” It also used to refer to anyone not born in the USA.

Today that last use of the word has mostly been substituted with immigrant or refugee. But the use of the word to refer to someone who didn’t live in your village, who was a stranger i.e not from your tribe or clan, goes back to Biblical times.

Thousands of years ago, written in the Hebrew Bible’s book of Leviticus, (the book that contained Mosaic Law to be followed) the Israelites were commanded by God to “Treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34). And we are all familiar with the teachings of Jesus using the parable of the Good Samaritan (which has taken on a non-sectarian definition and become part of our language’s popular vocabulary) to broaden the definition of “alien” to mean everyone is your “neighbor” and worthy of help in time of need regardless of beliefs or background.

How we have strayed from that! How sad that we now see anyone who differs from us as “others”. How sad that we feel we can change our laws to exclude these human beings from being recognized as “neighbors” not worthy of the same standards we have codified in our “Leviticus”, the Constitution! Perhaps what we need is a REAL alien to visit us and show us how to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” (Leviticus 19:18) ET would you please give a call to our Nation’s “home” the White House and ask our President to “come home” to his humanity?

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A lot of apologies are being thrown around in the news these days: Presidential candidates apologizing for past attitudes or behaviors, men apologizing for their actions towards women, parents apologizing for scamming Universities in order to get their children accepted.

So what is meant by the word apology and the derivative word apologetics?

The modern usage of apology means asking for forgiveness. It’s another way of saying you’re sorry about some behavior that offended someone. However, the original usage meant to explain one’s behavior or to defend oneself. It came from the Greek word apologia which means to “speak in return, to defend oneself.” Quite the opposite from what the examples listed here were doing! Over time the usage of the word evolved into our common meaning of “I’m sorry.”

However, the word apologetics retains its original intent when it is used by religious and philosophical schools. We’re familiar with it mostly as a branch of theology charged with the defense of Christianity’s beliefs. It means defending one’s faith (or just explaining it) when a non-Christian asks for more information.

What I find intriguing about the contrasting meaning of these two words is that if one apologized for unwanted sexual advances, would a person who refused to say he did wrong and defended his actions be considered “apologetic?” He wouldn’t be defending his “Christian Faith” but in the spirit of the word’s meaning he would be doing as Socrates (explained in his Apology) did in his public trial, explaining why he was innocent of various charges! In fact, in a non-sectarian way, that is exactly what happens in a court trial with each and every case.

Emoji, the 21st century’s cousin to emoticons (remember those? The digital typographical ASCII characters created in the 1970s which looked like needlepoint and were meticulously created by combining standard alphabet characters from a keyboard) have created a whole language that now can be accessed directly from a keyboard like any character set. Ever wonder who creates them or how they are created? Does anyone control this “language” or can just anybody give birth to an emoji and put it out there in cyberspace?

An article in the July 2018 issue of Wired magazine revealed all of these mysteries along with presenting some fascinating facts about emoji evolution. Emoji are not emoticons. Though used in the same fashion and are similar in that they pictographic like Japanese or Chinese characters, they are really a Unicode based “typeface”. However, they were invented by Shigetaka Kurita, a Japanese, in 1999 in response to Japan’s 250 character limit on e-mails. His emoji concept was a way to conserve space within those confines.

There are now more than 2,700 emoji and more get created every year. So who creates them and makes them accessible to you and me? There are two parts to this. Anyone can create an emoji if they know how. But for it to become public it must be submitted to “…the whims of the Sanhedrin of emoji – the Unicode Consortium.” Virginia Heffernan, Atomic Unit- the Delicate Art of Emoji, Wired July 2018

The Unicode Consortium’s chief task is to set the Unicode Standard, thus controlling the way text (typefaces) is encoded and represented in the world’s writing systems. There are twelve dues paying members, one each from: Oracle, IBM, Adobe, Apple, Google, Facebook, Shopify, Netflix, SAP, Huawei, the government of Oman, and UC Berkeley, as well as the governments of India and Bangladesh who have lower-level memberships. (She did not mention in her article how these entities were chosen to become its members.)

After an emoji idea (fully mocked up as to how it will look graphically) is submitted, it gets considered by the Consortium’s subcommittee. Then after lengthy debates within that committee it is rejected or added to the master list. Each year this gets submitted to the Unicode Technical Committee who will debate and vote on which ones will be approved.

There are a few constraints. Your emoji submission can’t represent a deity, a logo, or a specific person (living, dead, or fictional – sorry no Mr. Spock or Pres. Trump allowed!) Nor can it represent something illegal or “gross” or offensive. The submitter must also write a full proposal that includes speculative data as to frequency of use. As Virginia Heffernan writes in her article, “To regulate the development of a language is not, strictly speaking, the American way.” However she goes on to state, “…the regulation of emoji…serve as a singular example of how online communication might be supervised with rigor, generosity, and imagination.”

The commentators are a wealth of knowledge of arcane factoids:

For instance, we’ve all taken a “Jitney”. Some are ferries, some are buses but have you ever wondered where the name came from? Back in the beginning of the 20th century, it cost 5 cents to ride public transportation. A “jitney” was slang for a nickel. The name stuck for the short route transports even though today it costs a hundred times more to ride them!

And have you ever wondered what a group of butterflies are called? They are known as a “Kaleidoscope”.

Here’s a new word: “stream cheating”. This is when you can’t wait for your significant other to stream your favorite TV show.

It has also been dubbed by New York Magazine as “Netflix Adultery”. A Harris Interactive survey on behalf of Netflix said that 51% of those in a relationship would do just that. And gasp, some revealed that they would even watch it a second time and pretend they haven’t seen it.

You’ve used them texting or tweeting in order to save time or characters. But why on earth would anyone create restaurant names like “Thir13en” or a theatre “2econd Stage Theatre” or title for a TV show “Numb3rs”? When reading it silently to yourself, no problem. But how do you pronounce it if, say, you’re on the phone: “Meet me at <?>” you usually wind up spelling it out. 

OK, they are clever, they substitute numerals for letters in a way that looks original and ties the meaning of the numerals to the concept of the name. When you see them you can grasp their originality or playfulness. But when you have to speak them or spell them to someone, usually the explanation creates more confusion that the creator took into consideration.

Urls have used them for years as a way to get around already taken domain names. But in the real world, yes, this might create an original name for your business but is it memorable? Will it last the test of time? What kind of image does it give your brand? Don’t let visually oriented people on your team fall in love with this cutesy way out of a naming problem. And if you think only urls and business names have become victim to this trend, I hear that people are going the numword route in naming their kids! That to me is “dumwords”.

“Shorthand” the writing of common English words eliminating letters has been around for decades. So has jargon and slang that use words specific to an industry or social group. But with the advent of texting, and Twitter, you could say new modern “languages” have been born.

Twitter is really more like a word game. It challenges you to communicate within the confines of its 140 character limitation. Sort of like a journalist having to come up with a good short headline for a story. Only on Twitter you can contract words, leave out letters, or use words that are familiar with your readers but which other groups wouldn’t understand. (Read some of Lady Gaga’s Tweets and you’ll get the idea – who the heck are “little Monsters”???!)

Texting doesn’t put a limit on characters or the number of words but like old fashioned shorthand, it is easier to type a message using special words or leaving out letters. I believe this grew from the fact that your keyboard is so tiny, eliminating keystrokes makes typing the message easier. It took me forever to learn how to “thumb” a message (using my other fingers was a nightmare) and I still am amazed when I see a man with huge “paws” entering a message quickly on a tiny device!

 The result is that people have become so used to communicating in this “shorthand” language, that even at a full sized computer keyboard they don’t want to type out full words. Young people have an especially hard time switching from shorthand to normal English. This, of course, impedes communications such as work related correspondence or creating a job search cover letter that sounds professional.

It has also created what used to be called “slang”, words specific to a certain subculture, that are not in the dictionary. First is was using letters to describe things like the infamous LOL. Then it morphed into respelling words so they were shortened like substituting the numeral 4 instead of spelling “for”. Or getting real cre8tive just for the heck of it. Of course there are the totally new words like “hash tag” that in itself spawned “bashtagging” (bashing a company on Twitter using its own hash tag). Or giving a word another meaning for example a “Tweet” once meant only the sound a bird makes! Good or bad? Well, it’s always been said that language is a living thing and changes over time. We don’t speak the way they did in Shakespeare’s day, so why not #change?

Here are a few websites that will have you laughing, (or should I say twittering) or teach you a thing or two about these new “languages”:

Mashable’s Twitterspeak

A dictionary of Twitter words

For texting there are just too many good ones. So type “texting vocabulary” into your search engine of choice and have fun surfing the results!