23 May 2022

Ellis Millsaps: Cranky English Major Strikes Again

 Yes he's back again but this time maybe less cranky and more analytical. I'm going to be examining some current trendy jargon and speculating on its staying power but I'm saving that for later. For now I want to look at slang and the evolution of language in general.

I started my research on this with “cool,” and learned that as I thought going in it sprang out of black jazz culture between two world wars and pretty much stayed there until the Beat Generation adopted it as part of their discovery of jazz. The word didn't become mainstream until the hippie counterculture adopted it in the sixties.

 It then pretty much obliterated ”swell” as a general expression of approval. We heard Andy Hardy peppering his speech with a lot of swell.  Wally Cleaver used the expression but Maynard G Krebs, Cheech and Chong never.

 So swell is an example of a slang expression which was commonly used for quite a while and then virtually disappeared as slang.  I suspect that “awesome” will suffer the same fate. I think I've noticed  the decline of its use among young people.

 Other trendy expressions appear to be here for the long haul in spite of the cranky English Major’s strong disapproval. The most notorious of these is “ veggie,” which sounds like, and I suspect it started as, baby talk. Similarly but to a lesser extent I cringe when I hear ”24 -7.” It's as if the speaker is saying” look at me I'm cool,” which isn't.

Another such expression is ”share,” as in “I'd like to share something with you.”  I understand what is meant but it ain't what Jesus meant. The speaker is not giving up anything as an act of Christian charity. On the contrary, that person is going for self-aggrandizement.

So our language evolves naturally and you may or may not like particular manifestations but that's entirely subjective. Next time I'll give more examples and reflect on their origins.. 

- Ellis Millsaps