Acronyms, Idioms and Slang: the Evolution of the E

nglish Language.

Acronyms, Idioms and Slang: the Evolution of the English Language.

Although the English language is only 1500 years old, it has evolved at
an incredible rate: so much so, that, at first glance, the average person in
America today would find most Shakespearean literature confusing without the aid
of an Old-English dictionary or Cliff’s Notes. Yet Shakespear lived just 300
years ago! Some are seeing this is a sign of the decline of the English
language, that people are becoming less and less literate. As R. Walker writes
in his essay “Why English Needs Protecting,” “the moral and economic decline of
Great Britain in the post-war era has been mirrored by a decline in the English
language and literature.” I, however, disagree. It seems to me that the point of
language is to communicate to express some idea or exchange some form of
information with someone else. In this sense, the English language seems, not
necessarily to be improving or decaying, but optimizing becoming more

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It has been both said and observed that the technological evolution of a
society tends to grow exponentially rather than linearly. The same can also be
said of the English language. English is evolving on two levels: culturally and
technologically. And both of these are unavoidable. Perhaps the more noticeable
of the two today is the technological evolution of English. When the current
scope of a given language is insufficient to describe a new concept, invention,
or property, then there becomes a necessity to alter, combine, or create words
to provide a needed definition. For example, the field of Astro-Physics has
provided the English language with such new terms as pulsar, quasar, quark,
black hole, photon, neutrino, positron etc. Similarly, our society has recently
be inundated with a myriad of new terms from the field of Computer Science:
motherboard, hard drive, Internet, megabyte, CD, IDE, SCSI, TCP/IP, WWW, HTTP,
DMA, GUI and literally hundreds of others acronyms this particular field is
notorious for. While some of these terms, such as black hole and hard drive,
are just a combination of pre-existing words, many of them are new words
altogether. To me it seems clear that anything that serves to increase the
academic vocabulary of a society should be welcomed, although not all would
agree. For example, many have accused this trend of creating an acronym for
everything to be impersonal and confusing. And, while I agree that there is
really no need to abbreviate Kentucky Fried Chicken, it does become tiring to
have to constantly say Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) or Transfer Control
Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) when they are both used so frequently when
dealing with computers on a network. Not only is it futile for one to reject
these inevitably new additions to our language, one would do oneself well to
actually learn them.

The cultural evolution of English is not as distinguishable, nor
seemingly as necessary, as the technological evolution of English, yet it exists
nonetheless. It is on this level that the English language has primarily been
accused of being in a state of decline, specifically by the incorporation of
“slang” into mainstream language. But Webster’s Dictionary defines slang as:
1: language peculiar to a particular group: as a: ARGOT b:
JARGON 2: an informal nonstandard vocabulary composed
typically of coinages, arbitrarily changed words, and
extravagant, forced, or facetious figures of speech.

In this sense, much of what is commonly thought to be proper English can be said
to be slang. When the U.S. declared its independence from England, one of the
things scholars did was change the spelling of certain English words: colour was
changed to color, theatre to theater, etc. In addition, Americans have, over
time, given new names for certain things: what we call a trunk (of a car), the
English call a boot; what we call an apartment, the English call a flat, etc.

But because they have been in use for so long, they are no longer considered to
be slang words. R. Walker writes, “if slang and jargon are fixed in the
language, a process begun by their addition to the dictionary, it helps to make
them official.” It seems then, that a word is slang only if it has not yet been
accepted, that it is instead a candidate whose initiation into the English
language is determined by popular opinion and time.

Slang in America today, while varying from region to region, has one
major theme in common it is short. And while history has shown that most of
it will die never making official “word” status to be replaced by new slang
words, some of it will stay. The word dis (short for disrespect), for example,
has become a popular word used by more than just Generation X. What’s
interesting, however, is that even the nature of current everyday prose has
begun to shorten: it is more direct and to the point. As an example of older-
-style writing, Stephen Jay Gould, in his essay “Counters and Cable Cars,”
Consequently, in San Francisco this morning, I awoke before
sunrise in order to get my breakfast of Sears’s famous eighteen
pancakes (marvel not, they’re very small) before the morning
crush of more amenable hours rendered the restaurant uninhabitable
on Berra’s maxim.

This piece, while cleverly phrased, has a wordiness to it that would rarely be
found in the average present-day essay. This is not because writers of today
have smaller vocabularies than essayist of yesteryear (although they might),
but rather because there is a much simpler way of saying exactly what Gould
said. Ever since my very first English class, I have been told that, as a
writer, it is my job to get the reader’s attention, for I have something I wish
them to read. Furthermore, as a writer, it is also my job to communicate
clearly to my audience. In this respect, why choose one word that is fairly
uncommon (amenable) when other less ambiguous words could be used. This is not
to say that writers should cater to the lowest common denominator the
everyday reader should still be held responsible for developing a reasonable
vocabulary. Nevertheless, when a writer uses more words than are necessary to
convey accurately his/her message, he/she has is doing their message an
injustice. Thus, in the writing of today there can generally be seen a more
direct, seemingly less ambiguous tone and direction (save for the uneducated).

The days when it was looked upon favorably to write in great length and use as
many “big” words as were possible is over. That style, albeit elegant, does not
suffice in this fast-paced society. Acronyms, idioms, and slang are constantly
in the making, providing new, quicker ways for people to convey ideas and
exchange information. English, in the coming century, will inevitably come to
focus more on the actual message than the package it is delivered in. It
follows then, that what be developed in the children of the future, more than
anything else, is their ability to think; to formulate a thought worthy of
sharing. For, no matter what shape the English language takes in coming years,
what will never change is the desire and need our of society to communicate.