Friday, January 27, 2012

Our Changing Language

I'm finishing final edits on Too Many Ghosts: A Dominique and Duchess Mystery. Since my writer's critique group of 15 years disbanded last year, I enlisted some of the members of my reading group as my new critique group, including my middle daughter who is an excellent editor and voracious reader, (She's edited all 12 of my previous books) and two granddaughters, also voracious readers.

It has been a study in our ever-changing language and usage of terms and words that we retain, but the next generation is not familiar with. A true story before I share my list of words and terms that were foreign and unknown to my more youthful critiquers:

A Japanese friend of mine left her homeland when she was a young woman and came to America. She stayed in contact with her family and friends in Japan at first, but as the years passed and her parents died, her contact with them was sporadic. Finally after about 25 years in this county, she returned home to visit extended family and friends. Though she had kept up her own language here after learning to speak excellent English, when she arrived in Japan, she discovered the language in that country had evolved and she had a very difficult time understanding or being understood. Her Japanese language had remained static - the living language in Japan had changed and evolved with the passing years.

And now to my list of words or phrases that my younger readers felt were archaic or had absolutely no knowledge of the meaning of the term:

Rang off - as in hung up the telephone
Make tracks - as in go quickly
Get out of Dodge - leave town immediately
Hurts like all get out - really, really hurts
Makes interesting copy - interesting information for an article or book
Spell her off - take over and give her a respite
The folks - the parents
Count your chickens before they hatch - if it isn't there yet, you can't count on it
Mars candy bars - do you remember those? They were my favorite
CCC - Civilian Conservation Corps - public work relief program that started in 1933
WPA - Works Progress Administration - similar to above started in 1935
Hogan - primary traditional home of the Navajo people
I'll fix you! - I'll get even
Fanny - backside, behind

That is the short list of terms I've removed from the manuscript or had to explain to my readers. I plan to go back through the edited ms. and pull out the rest of the words they questioned. My youngest daughter suggested a title for a book: A Loss of Words: A Septuagenarian Author Ponders Our Changing Language. Not that I have time for that, but it might make for interesting copy in some future article about the folks before I have to ring off and make tracks to get out of Dodge to spell her off.

1 comment:

Jennie said...

Time isn't the only thing that changes phrases and word meanings. Each line of work or recreation, even churches and service groups adopt phrases that confuse others, but make perfect sense to the ones accustomed to those phrases. Members of our church have certainly received their share of confusion and odd looks when people confuse stake and steak.