Brenda’s Blog – February 7, 2023
“Words change their meaning over a period of time – some become more gentler; others more crude.”
We talk about cultural shifts, tectonic shifts, and attitude shifts meaning the move from one position to another. Etymologists point to word origin, usage, and transitions over historical periods. In 2021 the editors of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary added 455 words including “flutter-nutter” which is a sandwich of peanut butter and marshmallow spread on bread. Another common example is “Amirite”- the derivative of Am I Right? And of course the universally used “YEET” which means to hurl or throw.
Growing up my Dad loved thinking he was “with it” by adopting what he thought was the teenage vernacular. However, when he landed on a phrase he wore it out, using it years after it was dead and buried. His favorite was “ooky gooky.” I was with my daughter and another friend the other day. They started talking about their teenagers by exchanging slang words (none of which I had ever heard!) And the rule of cultural confusion still exists. That is, if you used to say something was “bad “it was good. Or “crazy” meant unusual or surprising, but not insane. Strangely enough, the dictionary states “cool” is considered the most American of all slang words. It began in the 1930s to comment on fashion. It comes and goes, but manages to resurface – it is the phoenix of phonetics.
A good friend has an aged, World War 1 era scrapbook which belonged to his grandmother. The bold words on the cover say “Men Who Made Love To Me.” Understandably I was shocked (and then amused) as I turned the pages. It was page after page of letters from men she wrote while they were in foreign countries as servicemen. She lived in a small, Texas town where the troop trains stopped on their way to the coast. She greeted them, gave them snacks, and promised to write. For the entire duration she wrote dozens (perhaps hundreds) of servicemen… many of whom fell in love with this young West Texas lovely who faithfully wrote. The letters were a living history of the war, of their homesickness, and their desire to be back with family. In the finest sense of the word they did speak love to her… and she to them.
The Greeks had five separate words for “love” because one was inadequate for description. Christian love became known as agape denoting service, sacrifice, and the sacred. Western linguistics lumps everything from the erotic to the adoration for God into one word. Interestingly, our language does morph – the semantic shift does occur, but all cultures maintain a way of communicating the connection between people. One of the oldest of all words in human language is Mother which is considered to be 15,000 years old. The more our verbal expression changes, the more we seek to speak of fundamental human relationships and emotions.