Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Evolution In Language

I grind my teeth at inappropriate apostrophe's, and have to work to keep my reaction off my mug when someone tells me how pleased they were that "the senator invited my wife and I to the ceremony." And hearing ragtime referred to as a musical genus was at least as painful to my ears as a badly-mangled piano chord in the middle of "Maple Leaf Rag." By gum, language is on its way to you-know-where in a you-know-what.

On the other hand, I've found erroneous apostrophes in well-regarded material from a hundred years ago, and I've read articles which claimed use of the nominative where you'd expect the accusative was commonplace in England two hundred years ago. And as for word choice, I could fill the rest of this page and several more with words in common parlance that used to mean something very different from what they mean today.

So last Thursday's newsletter from the Booked for Murder Mystery Indie in Madison, Wisconsin caught my eye. Sara Barnes, the owner, frequently includes sly and mischievous comments on language, and in this mailing, she presented some common texting terms to show that In the Beginning was The Word - but now it's The Abbreviation.

One of Sara's examples was lol, for "laugh out loud." The second time I ever came upon that particular linguistic abridgement was in pre-texting times, in an early email. When I asked the writer what it meant, she said, "'Lots of luck.' What did you think?"

I hadn't known what to think, because my first association with the abbreviation had been back in the 'sixties, as a medical intern at New York's Bellevue Hospital, where house staff talked about admissions having either the DOM or the LOL Syndrome - respectively, Dirty Old Man and Little Old Lady. (There was even a subcategory of the latter, the LOJL, where the J stood for Jewish. Check out Chapter 4, "The Chicken Soup For Lunch Bunch" in my book, The View From The Vue). And you can be sure, after a night's work, trying to keep a sick little old lady on this side of the River Styx, often in 90-degree temperature with humidity to match, laughing out loud was about the last thing an intern was inclined to do.

But there's evolution in language for you. Today, I'd be considered not with it if I thought lol stood for lots of luck, and thoroughly out of it if I thought the abbreviation had anything to do with little old ladies. So, go ahead. Do as you will to Mother Tongue. She's a tough old bird. She'll see us both into our graves. I could care less.

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