Over the last few months, I enjoyed the enormous thrill of doing some work for Dictionary.com, a site which I (and most writers) have certainly used as a research database for many years. Aside from being one of the most exciting companies I could ever imagine writing for, there was a sheer pleasure to the process itself. Researching words. Looking into the history of the language. Figuring out how words evolve. Words are how we sculpt ideas, and we can track the evolution of culture through the words we use.
The non-words of today are the words of tomorrow. Consider the term “ponytail,” once clearly modeled after an actual pony’s tail, but now ubiquitous with a hairstyle. Or the way we refer to the “legs” of a chair. Language is fascinating, because of what it says about how we think.
Language is not only our most characteristic invention. It’s us.
The true beauty of language, I think, is in its inherent fluidity. The words we use today frame the concepts that we’re talking about, the comparisons that we’re making, the joining of one idea to another. Because of this, I think new words are something to be embraced, not resisted; while terms like “hangry” and “man bun” might sound silly today, they represent the conceptualization of attitudes, styles, and behaviors that did exist before, but have now been given a new representation within this culture.
Language never stops evolving, because people — and the way we think — never stops evolving either. While humans always have a tendency to romanticize some era of their past, the truth is that culture must continue progressing forward. Things have to change. Attitudes have to evolve, and then evolve past whatever they evolved into. It’s what culture does. So it’s important that we always open our eyes to the future, and always stay interested in what’s ahead.