The newspaper is completely missing any mention of climate change, populism, pandemics or China, to name just a few of the things that are currently occupying a large part of our thoughts.
Looking at any item on the list, I ask myself, “What category of human experience does this particular phenomenon belong to?” It turns out that a lot of the new words are, perhaps unsurprisingly, to do with interpersonal relationships – the way we relate to and present to each other.
Body-shaming, cancel culture, chatlines, Chaturbate, cisgender, Creative Commons license, crowdfund, crowdsource, distance learning, DM, dox, emoji, emoticon, follow / unfollow, friend / unfriend, and then all the new language around social media. It is in this category that there seems to have been the most activity. Are humans communicating more than they ever did in the past? Is this process of ‘community building’ now hyperdriven because our old ways of creating communities (i.e. growing up, living and working with other people, or getting involved? with them in common causes) no longer work? Or do we just need more forms of community? And where does this insatiable appetite for constant conversation come from? Is it because, in the words of Eric Hoffer, you can never get tired of what you don’t really want?
And what are we do not do when we do all this chatter?
Newness in the world is not the only thing that stimulates a new language. The new people want a new language because it is a way to distinguish themselves from the old ones. This engine of linguistic evolution is part of another type of communication. It is often not about saying new things but saying the same things differently and in doing so indicating which tribe you belong to (and which you do not). Language is a badge of belonging or affiliation, and sometimes that’s most of what it says. Language like this is designed to tell you more about the speaker than what is being spoken.