On the radio this evening, people were discussing a major bank theft done with fake ATM cards, drawing out money at what sounded like hundreds of ATMs around the world. The logistics sounded impossible, except for Superman (who I think would not need the money), yet they did it. What made this grand cyberheist possible to begin with was hacking into computers to steal codes. The person on the radio talking about this used the word “malware”, a word that set me to thinking about how fast our language is changing.
As a general thing, a language describes the world the speakers live in. In olden days presumably Eskimos had no word for “palm tree”, and you probably don’t use the word “heddle” unless you live in a world with a weaver. These are the easiest kinds of examples, nouns that represent physical objects. More subtle are abstract nouns (anoint), verbs (prostrate), or adjectives (gruesome).
Grammar can also reflect a view of reality, such as the fact that—if you can go with this—English once had not just singular and plural, but dual, words that always indicated two of something. If you had two, it mattered, so they had words for it.
In case you haven’t lived long enough to have noticed this, everything changes and everything goes away eventually. Damn it to hell, like it or not, that’s how it be. Since life changes, since society changes, the language has to go with it, or else we can’t very accurately describe being here.
Thus in our eternal battle against evil, begun by mythic figures thousands of years ago, we have now added the word “malware”. You can probably see that the word was rather cleverly created as a variation on “software”, to mean bad software. And look at “software” itself, an even more inventive variation to describe the invisible mysteries inside computers, which were themselves considered a kind of “hardware”. That word “software”, that was kind of inspired.
What I began thinking about while listening to the radio earlier is how fast the language changes are happening, because our society is changing as fast as a bullet moving through butter. Technology may be leading that rush. So we have iPods, and what the hell kind of word is that, and what is an iPod anyway, and why does it have a small “i” followed by an uppercase “P” and God almighty, I’m just gonna go have a drink.
But social changes are also smacking their way through our lives, and those changes also bring their linguistic load. The Oxford English Dictionary (so far the ultimate dictionary in English) recently decided to include “defriend” and “gang tattoo”.
A lot of people talk about “good English” and “bad English”. People who say this don’t usually realize it, but what they are saying is that a particular dialect of English, promoted in school, is good and anything else is bad. Or badder than bad. Evil. Evil English. “I’m not going to do anything” is good English. “I ain’t gonna do nothing” is evil.
Really, you can just get cranky and stupid about this stuff. Here are a couple of things I’m cranky and stupid about. I hate the word “mom” as a generic term for “mother”, as in the sentence “Some moms were talking about how their kids were doing at school”. No big deal, right? Of course not. But I hate it and won’t do it. I also hate the shift of the word “grow” to a new verb that now includes inanimate things, such as “We need to grow the economy”. Aaaahkh, I hate that! I know I’m just a crank, but I don’t care. Anybody who says that is evil. Actually, they usually are, since it’s mostly said by politicians.
Speaking of which, maybe we should call anyone who actually gets elected to Congress a “malocrat”. We could begin a campaign to promote this new word. Start a Facebook page. Tweet on Twitter. Make some T shirts. Or you do it. I ain’t gonna do nothing.