The ever-evolving English language

We’ve all heard the great Darwinian phrase “survival of the fittest”, meaning only the strongest will survive and thrive.

But it’s not just about being strong. It’s also about being flexible and adapting to change. It’s about solving and evolving.

And that’s just what the English language does so well.

Rigid, starchy, rules around splitting infinitives and beginning sentences with ‘but’ have moved on. Not to the detriment of English however. We no longer speak in the ‘Queen’s English’ so why write that way. Particularly as the mediums through which we communicate have become so diverse and direct.

And while there is a place for Twitter’s 140 characters limit and an array of emojis in text messages, they should support and complement our beautiful language not replace it.

A business email sent to a client should not sign off with an array of smiley faces, any more than a text to a friend shouldn’t begin ‘dear sir’. It’s all about context and balance.

And new words that slip into our English language through the process of evolution should be embraced and enjoyed. After all, if you can’t beat them, join them!

Think…

• Brexit – the departure of the UK from the EU
• Binge-watch – watching multiple episodes of a favourite TV programme
• FOMO – fear of missing out if not online
• JOMO – joy of missing out by not being online
• Selfie – taking a photo of yourself via a smartphone
• Bitcoin – digital currency

The list goes on.

Which is why, the English language, we salute you – keep on evolving!

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Selfie – it’s official!

Oxford Dictionaries has announced ‘selfie’ as its word of 2013 on the basis its usage has increased by 17,000% over the past year – staggering!

For those not in the know, a selfie is a self-portrait photo usually taken with a phone for uploading onto social media sites.  Famous selfie advocates include pop stars, politicians, and even the Pope.

Personally, I think this news is great and further evidence of the flexibility of the English language.  I may be a stickler for good grammar and the correct use of our beautiful prose, but I also recognise (and regularly preach!) that it must evolve to survive.

Twenty years ago, it was a cardinal sin to begin a sentence with ‘but’ or ‘and’, and you would never dream of splitting an infinitive.  Now, all three (and so much more) are perfectly acceptable in the right context.

In the early 2000s, I remember first hearing the words ‘carbon footprint’ while working for PricewaterhouseCoopers in London.  Corporate social responsibility and being a good green employer was coming to the fore in a big way, and measuring your carbon footprint (impact on the environment) was the buzz phrase of the time.  Now, carbon footprint is well known and understood with its own place on the pages of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary; just as selfie will be very soon.

Other words on the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013 shortlist include: binge-watch, bitcoin, showrooming, and twerk.  Visit www.oxforddictionaries.com for the full list.

Words

Love them or hate them, words are a big part of our everyday life and even more so since the advent of online written communications.

As a professional wordsmith, I adore words and have had the pleasure of working closely with them throughout my career.  Which is why I am distraught when I see them misused and abused.

Pacific is an ocean not a means of specifying.

Best practice – with a ‘c’ – is the recognised way of doing something properly.

Those present are here not hear; that’s for the ears.

Effective writing can significantly affect the reader, not the other way around.

The team has won (singular) not have won (plural).

And as for hyphens, please don’t use them unless they are absolutely essential for example to clarify meaning.  Yes for re-sign (sign again) otherwise it means resign (leave a job) but not for email/e-mail which can be either however, put simply, since the hyphen adds no value and looks downright ugly why bother.

Rant over!