The English language is always on the move. It has to be. We invent, we create, we stretch the flexible reality of the world into new shapes. There are new words needed for our fast-moving language. It wasn’t too long ago that cookies were for eating and not tracking; a dead-tree version was an example of Dutch Elm Disease, not a book that didn’t need a battery; huge pipes were found in a church instead of what everyone with an internet connection wishes they paid for.
We invent words, use them, overuse them, abandon them. Fifteen years ago we could not live without a floppy disk. Now the phrase (and the product) is legacy media.
We crave the short, so we slice out letters and use the rest as words. Vaca is what a vacation used to be. Convo is a conversation, and YOLO is the abbreviated form of “you only live once,” which if I hear it again, the speaker may experience as literal truth.
Whole conversations are encapsulated into phrases. We are mashing up our emotions to avoid expressing them. “I can’t even” (which, I say primly, because I teach grammar to adults, is a sentence fragment missing an object) is an accepted expression of huge emotion you do not want to name. I’ve seen “I can’t even” to express wonderment, anger, frustration or confusion. In three words. The only thing missing is the emotion the user means to express. That’s left for the reader to guess.
Feels seems to be for multiple, or rapidly changing feelings. Although I have also seen it as feeeeeeels, which seems to include a hug or stronger agreement. This! is now a word of agreement so strong we want to define what it describes, but don’t want to do the work of describing it. It has become the citation element of bumper-sticker philosophies. I don’t know why the word chosen wasn’t That!, but my phone did not ring asking for advice.
We have also fallen into exaggerating our emotions without naming them at all. One exclamation point seems strangely lacking now. Why use ! when !!! is three times as much excitement. Or, if you have a question and still are excited, there is a lot of !?!! floating around Facebook.
Unreal!! means mildly amusing and completely understandable. I’m dying has followed the path of literally, to mean something completely different than the original. I’m dying is used to express total agreement, or mild amusement hiding out as hysterical laughter (formerly ROFL). I’m literally dying means you are not dying at all, and are able to sit upright and type on a keyboard. But not express yourself clearly. Although everyone under the age of 50 will know what you mean.
I love our fast-morphing language. Slang is undoubtedly fun. But when you discuss emotions, and want others to empathize, please name them. Because if you don’t, well, then, I literally can’t even.
—Quinn McDonald understand that the purpose of a dictionary is not to give you permission to use a word, but to help you understand the current use of that word. She’s grateful for online dictionaries, because words are shape-shifters that change overnight.