Words Make A Difference

Today I woke up thinking about linguistic idiosyncrasies. I have no idea why. What I mean, though is that I was thinking about how language, and our use of it, changes over time. When my dad was a kid, to describe something as “cool,” he and his friends would say it was “wicked pissa.” When my friends and I were teenagers, we would say it was “sick.” When I was fourteen and my guitar teacher was twenty nine or so, he would call things, “mad ill.”

My use of language has definitely changed since I was fourteen. I have no idea why, but for a while now I’ve been describing things that I really like or that get me excited as “disgustingly good,” or just “disgusting,” or “stupid good.” I remember when we were younger, we used to use the word, “awesome” a lot.” Now I tend to use “ridiculous.”

When I was a senior in college, I had to fill my schedule with a couple electives. The funny thing about my school was that there weren’t really any classes that were just fun and easy. That being the case, I decided to take “history of the English language.” It wasn’t an easy class, but it was definitely interesting. Our final was to write a paper that had anything to do with the English language. It was as simple as that. I decided to write my paper on the use of slang. I find slang immensely interesting. In part, my paper dealt with the reinterpretation of how certain words are used in informal vernacular, and in part with the invention of new words. I came across one argument that I strongly agreed with, that if an invented word is universally understood in a specific context with an actual definition, whether or not it’s in the dictionary, it is, in fact, a legitimate word in the English language. A significant portion of my paper dealt with this idea.

I’ve invented a few words and phrases. Mostly only my dad and I know what they mean, but between us, they make sense. For example, “blargh,” means “darn it.” The word “gabuje” has several uses, but it’s always accompanied by body language or some other indicator that makes it makes sense. It means, “move,” “help me with this,” or in the form a question, “are you ready?” My dad also invented the term “bird tantrum.” a bird tantrum is when you’re annoyed, generally about something stupid, but you have no words to describe what you’re annoyed about.

On a more serious note, I learned something very interesting the other day. In middle and high school I took a total of five years of French classes. In French, as well as with other languages, there is a formal, as well as an informal word for the second person singular, i.e. “you.” In French, the formal is “vous,” the informal is “tu.” The latter is what one might use with close friends or relatives. Apparently there used to be a recognizable formal and informal second person singular in English, as well. The formal was “you,” and counter intuitively, the informal was “thou,” or “thee,” depending on the context. Therefore, when certain prayers were translated into English, the translators intentionally retained the informal, intimate use in recognition of the kind of relationship we’re supposed to have with God.

Of course we haven’t retained the formal/informal use of the second person singular in English, and I kind of find that regrettable. Unless I’m reciting the Lord’s prayer or another old prayer I have memorized, I call my heavenly Father, and my Savior, “you.” In a way, I think it makes the short moments taken to recite old prayers more precious, knowing what it means to say, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” He’s my God. He’s the King of the Universe. He’s my Savior, and my brother. He’s my family because he chose to be. He chose me.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

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