Words, words. Loads of new ones
By Jean Godden
If Shakespeare were around today, he'd have a heck of a time understanding us. While we still do speak English, the language he used writing the world's most famous plays, we've been mighty busy since then adding new words and using old ones in novel ways.
English is a living language, always changing, more dynamic and expressive. As playwright Will knew, language is not meant to be static. He himself added 1700 words to the then young language (Elizabethan English), words like bandit, critic, swagger, scuffle, grovel, madcap and zany.
Like all languages, English evolves from three main influences: (1) movement of people from other locations, (2) the influence of technology, and (3) appropriation of useful foreign words like tsunami, avatar, schadenfreude and kitschy.
Most recently, English has been influenced heavily by invention and technology. The internet and electronic communication birthed hundreds of words, phrases and TLAs (three-letter acronyms). Just a small sampling of tech lingo:
Astroturfing: setting up phony "grassroots" groups to hide real self-interest.
Amirite: short for "Am I right?"
Bandwidth: work capacity.
Bogosity: level to which something is phony.
Biobreak: pause to visit a bathroom.
Codespeak: jargon that's deliberately confusing or indirec
Deepfake: an image that has been altered.
Dogfooding: consuming one's own product.
Droptoiphobia: fear of dropping your cellphone down the toilet
Nomophobia: fear of being without one's mobile device.
Screenager: person in teens or 20s with attitude for the internet.
Selfiephobia: fear of taking one's own photo.
Shelfware: technology so worthless that it's still on the shelf.
Slow walk: delay on purpose.
Techlash: reaction to advanced technology.
Zoom: a way to communicate by internet; used as stem word for zoomfest and zoombombing (interfering with a zoom session.)
There also are literally hundreds of commonly used acronyms like LOL (laugh out loud), EOM (end of message), IMO (in my opinion), EOBD (end of business day), WFH (working from home) and B2K (back to the keyboard).
On top of all that tech jargon we've added to the language, the world-wide pandemic is now giving us new word usages and many dozens of acronyms like PPE (personal protective equipment) and PPP (paycheck protection program). So far though we've only acquired one truly new word: covid-19.
However, there are dozens of repurposed words and phrases that we would have puzzled over just one short year ago. Among them are: Asymptomatic, contact tracing, denialism, social distancing, patient zero and the new Exposure App, the smartphone technology that notifies users about covid-19 exposures
Shakespeare might not have related to our new uses of the English language, but he certainly would have understood about the impact of devastating diseases. During his lifetime, England experienced repeated epidemics of bubonic plague. The outbreaks prompted authorities to close theaters for months at a time.
As both an actor and theater owner, Shakespeare suffered heavy monetary losses. Still it is highly likely that, during his self quarantine, he wrote such masterpieces as King Lear and MacBeth. He put words into King Lear's mouth, railing against "plagues that hang in this pendulous air." Shakespeare, too, found the right words to describe deathly diseases.