(Pixabay.com)

(Pixabay.com)

COLUMN: Watching my language as English changes

Words and writing styles have been evolving over the years

The other day, as I was looking through some back issues at the Summerland Review, I noticed once again how much our language and way of writing have changed in recent years.

The news articles and the letters to the editor had a much more formal tone than the writing of today.

Contractions don’t show up too often in writing from earlier decades. Today, they’re much more common.

Still, one writer I respect today is adamant that contractions shouldn’t be used in written English. They’re fine in dialogue, but nowhere else.

I have also read plenty of contemporary fiction and nonfiction where this rule is broken.

The phrase, “excited for,” doesn’t appear in the older newspapers, and I know some writers who avoid it because they believe it should be “excited about.”

READ ALSO: VIDEO: Merriam-Webster declares ‘they’ its 2019 word of the year

READ ALSO: VIDEO: ‘Climate emergency’ is Oxford’s 2019 Word of the Year

But others, especially entertainment writers, have no qualms about “excited for.”

Words like “data” and “plan” were around in the 1920s, but the term “data plan” is something much more recent, describing something that did not exist until quite recently.

Policeman and fireman were common in past decades, but today those words sound archaic. Now we have police officers and firefighters. We also have councillors instead of aldermen.

Even the use of slurs and obscenities has been changing. Some terms, once uttered freely, are no longer spoken, while words once considered offensive can be heard everywhere, and are even finding their way into print.

Each year, when linguists and lexicographers announce their choice for the word of the year, writers will take notice.

Recently, the use of the word “they” came into the conversation as the editors of Merriam-Webster listed it as their word of the year for 2019.

It has become used as an inclusive way to refer to people without making reference to gender.

The word, particularly “they” as a singular term, attracted a lot of attention during the past year.

But this isn’t the first time the singular “they” has received attention.

In 2015, the American Dialect Association selected “they” as their word of the year, since it was coming into use by some who do not use “he” or “she” as their pronouns of choice.

I have heard the singular “they” since the early 1980s, and for many years, the Canadian Press Stylebook — the style guide used by most English-language newspapers in Canada — has allowed “they” as a singular word, but only if there is no other reasonable way to structure a sentence.

The style guide also notes that the singular use of they is increasingly accepted.

Still, quite a few writers believe “they” must always refer to groups of people, never just one person.

However, not all linguists and lexicographers identified “they” as their word of choice last year.

The people at Oxford Dictionaries chose “climate emergency” as their term for 2019.

The term was prominent over the past year. It reflects a shift in dialogue about climate-related discussions.

By the end of this year, Merriam-Webster, Oxford Dictionaries and other organizations will likely select different terms as their word or phrase of the year.

These designations are important because the English language is changing and evolving. New words and changes in meaning are signs that our language is a vibrant and living language, adapting to the needs of its speakers.

I won’t say I’m excited for the choices of “they” and “climate emergency” as words of the year, but that’s only because I dislike the phrase, “excited for.”

However, I will take note when a new word of phrase enters our lexicon, or when the meaning or usage of a familiar word begins to change.

After all, I need to watch my language.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

To report a typo, email:
news@summerlandreview.com
.



news@summerlandreview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
36 new cases of COVID-19, one death in Interior Health

The number of active cases in the region is at 366

Mussel inspection sit set up at B.C.-Alberta border. (Contributed)
Okanagan Basin Water Board calls for stronger invasive mussel protection

Letter sets out six recommendations for environment minister George Heyman to consider

Send your letter to the editor via email to news@summerlandreview.com. Please included your first and last name, address, and phone number.
LETTER: Summerland council should reconsider solar project

Money could be put to road repairs in the community

Although B.C. has not made masks mandatory in public indoor spaces, some business owners are requiring all customers to wear them before entering their store. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
EDITORIAL: Heightened tension over face masks

Incidents of anger and conflicts over mandated masks happening too frequently

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

Riverside Centre includes a theatre hosting local plays, visiting musicians and dance troupes. It is also used for community events such as public meetings and fundraisers. Photo Town of Princeton
COVID-19 numbers provided by Interior Health show Salmon Arm and Revelstoke in the 200-plus range from January 2020 to February 2021 while Vernon, with a larger population, tallied more than 600 over the 14 months. (BC Centre for Disease Control map)
14 months of COVID-19 data show Kamloops cases doubling Vernon’s

Jan. 1, 2020 to Feb. 28, 2021: 605 cases reported for Vernon, 243 for Salmon Arm, 1,246 for Kamloops

Penticton Fire Department pulled a kayaker from Okanagan Lake on Wednesday after he had fallen out of his boat and called 911. The man was taken to the hospital for treatment. (Western News - File)
Kayaker rescued from Okanagan Lake after falling in and calling 911

The Penticton Fire Department’s Marine Rescue pulled him out suffering from severe cold

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Second death reported in Kelowna General Hospital COVID-19 outbreak

A total of seven cases have been identified at the hospital: six patients and one staff

The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce’s general manager Dan Proulx, left, hosted a virtual Official Opposition town hall meeting with Shadow Cabinet Minister Small Business Pat Kelly, right, and North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold March 3, 2021. (Screenshot)
Tourism key to business recovery in North Okanagan-Shuswap: MP

Easing travel restrictions, limiting taxation and debt management critical to COVID-19 economic recovery

Thomas Kruger-Allen is expected to be sentenced Friday, March 5, 2021.
Sentencing expected Friday for 2019 Penticton beach attack

Defense wants 12 to 18 months for beach assaults that left one of his victims with brain injury

(BCCDC)
42 cases of COVID-19 in the Central Okanagan last week

Officials have identified almost 3,000 cases of the virus in the Central Okanagan throughout the pandemic

Most Read