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Acronyms idioms and slang

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


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.

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