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Old October 4 2012, 09:42 AM   #1
Jim Gamma
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Changing Language Usage

I know languages evolve, but sometimes it seems that the language usage - especially of businesses - is changing constantly. For example:

- You no longer "buy" something (especially not online), you "purchase" it. (Use of more complex language for no real reason.)
- On public transport, you're not a "passenger", you're a "customer". (Emphasis on the monetary transaction rather than the service being provided.)
- You don't have a "Personnel" department, it's "Human Resources" - or indeed just "Resources". (Why would you need a euphamism for 'Personnel'?)
- Individuals with non-standard levels of eyesight are "visually impaired" rather than "partially sighted". (Less obvious perhaps, but it emphasises the bad - they can't see as well - rather than the good - they can see a bit.)

As I said - I know language usage changes... but why? And are there any particular changes in language use you've noticed over the years? What do you think of these trends?
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Old October 4 2012, 09:49 AM   #2
RJDonner&Blitzen
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Re: Changing Language Usage

It's not that language evolves, it's just that it's been definitionally optimized.
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Old October 4 2012, 10:09 AM   #3
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Re: Changing Language Usage

Visually impaired in the UK has always been the preferred descriptor instead of partially sighted. I think it implies a greater range of problems. For instance someone who has some form of colour blindness is not partially sighted but they are visually impaired.
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Old October 4 2012, 10:54 AM   #4
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Re: Changing Language Usage

I've noticed the use of "she" instead of "he" when referring to a non-specific, hypothetical person has become more frequent. It seemed to be the pronoun of choice in most of my computer science textbooks. I've grown to like it, even though I usually still use "he" out of habit.

Other than that...I'm probably too young to have noticed much beyond changes in slang. Nobody says fartknocker anymore, I guess. I'm totally fine with language changing, though. There is no perfect inviolable entity known as English. The basic point is communication, everything besides that is just getting artsy fartsy about it.
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Old October 4 2012, 11:14 AM   #5
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Re: Changing Language Usage

kolibri wrote: View Post
Nobody says fartknocker anymore
I'm pretty sure ITL does. In fact he probably invented it.
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Old October 4 2012, 11:49 AM   #6
Jim Gamma
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Re: Changing Language Usage

kolibri wrote: View Post
Nobody says fartknocker anymore
I'm not sure I've ever heard of it. Though I think I can guess.
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Old October 4 2012, 02:12 PM   #7
Alidar Jarok
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Re: Changing Language Usage

I've heard Visually Impaired my entire life. Buy and Purchase are used interchangeably. I see people use purchase as a noun (I want to make a "purchase"), but they'll still tell you where they "bought" it.
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Old October 4 2012, 02:34 PM   #8
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Re: Changing Language Usage

Frau Blucher wrote: View Post
kolibri wrote: View Post
Nobody says fartknocker anymore
I'm pretty sure ITL does. In fact he probably invented it.
My sister still says fartknocker, and I've never heard anyone say it but her.

As for language changing, that's just the way of things. Sometimes it changes out of trendiness, sometimes out of force, sometimes out of necessity. Sometimes the changes enrich the language and sometimes they detract from it. I think my favorite example of this is the evolution in the meaning of the word 'nice.' In Chaucer's day it meant pretty much the opposite of what it means now; 'nice' to Chaucer meant unpleasant and overbearing. It evolved from there to mean strict, austere, and orderly -- from there it came to mean clean and neat -- and from there it evolved to our current definition.

I also read once that the word 'ask' was originally pronounced 'ax'.
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Old October 4 2012, 02:48 PM   #9
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Re: Changing Language Usage

thestrangledcorpse wrote: View Post

As for language changing, that's just the way of things. Sometimes it changes out of trendiness, sometimes out of force, sometimes out of necessity. Sometimes the changes enrich the language and sometimes they detract from it. I think my favorite example of this is the evolution in the meaning of the word 'nice.' In Chaucer's day it meant pretty much the opposite of what it means now; 'nice' to Chaucer meant unpleasant and overbearing. It evolved from there to mean strict, austere, and orderly -- from there it came to mean clean and neat -- and from there it evolved to our current definition.

I also read once that the word 'ask' was originally pronounced 'ax'.
Nice as an adjective either meant foolish in ME or, as Chaucer used it to mean precise and punctilious.

Ask is from OE áscian so the 's' came first except in later dialects.
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Old October 4 2012, 02:49 PM   #10
Alidar Jarok
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Re: Changing Language Usage

thestrangledcorpse wrote: View Post
I also read once that the word 'ask' was originally pronounced 'ax'.
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Old October 4 2012, 03:03 PM   #11
MacLeod
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Re: Changing Language Usage

Jim Gamma wrote: View Post
I know languages evolve, but sometimes it seems that the language usage - especially of businesses - is changing constantly. For example:

- You no longer "buy" something (especially not online), you "purchase" it. (Use of more complex language for no real reason.)
- On public transport, you're not a "passenger", you're a "customer". (Emphasis on the monetary transaction rather than the service being provided.)
- You don't have a "Personnel" department, it's "Human Resources" - or indeed just "Resources". (Why would you need a euphamism for 'Personnel'?)
- Individuals with non-standard levels of eyesight are "visually impaired" rather than "partially sighted". (Less obvious perhaps, but it emphasises the bad - they can't see as well - rather than the good - they can see a bit.)

As I said - I know language usage changes... but why? And are there any particular changes in language use you've noticed over the years? What do you think of these trends?

Buy and Purchase are interchangable.

When travelling on public transport whilst being a passanger, if you have paid for a ticket you are also a customer. The service they provide is transportation.

I've head HR referred to as People Services.

Though the next question to ask, do other languages evovle as much (or as quickly) as English
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Old October 4 2012, 03:15 PM   #12
horatio83
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Re: Changing Language Usage

Jim Gamma wrote: View Post
I know languages evolve, but sometimes it seems that the language usage - especially of businesses - is changing constantly. For example:

- You no longer "buy" something (especially not online), you "purchase" it. (Use of more complex language for no real reason.)
- On public transport, you're not a "passenger", you're a "customer". (Emphasis on the monetary transaction rather than the service being provided.)
- You don't have a "Personnel" department, it's "Human Resources" - or indeed just "Resources". (Why would you need a euphamism for 'Personnel'?)
- Individuals with non-standard levels of eyesight are "visually impaired" rather than "partially sighted". (Less obvious perhaps, but it emphasises the bad - they can't see as well - rather than the good - they can see a bit.)

As I said - I know language usage changes... but why? And are there any particular changes in language use you've noticed over the years? What do you think of these trends?
You already pointed out why with your two neat examples of political correctness and corporatization, languages reflects cultural changes.
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Old October 4 2012, 03:18 PM   #13
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Re: Changing Language Usage

Jim Gamma wrote: View Post
- You don't have a "Personnel" department, it's "Human Resources" - or indeed just "Resources". (Why would you need a euphamism for 'Personnel'?)
It's pretty much always been HR in the UK. Personnel sounds a bit Gordon Gekko.
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Old October 4 2012, 03:31 PM   #14
thestrangequark
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Re: Changing Language Usage

Frau Blucher wrote: View Post
thestrangledcorpse wrote: View Post

As for language changing, that's just the way of things. Sometimes it changes out of trendiness, sometimes out of force, sometimes out of necessity. Sometimes the changes enrich the language and sometimes they detract from it. I think my favorite example of this is the evolution in the meaning of the word 'nice.' In Chaucer's day it meant pretty much the opposite of what it means now; 'nice' to Chaucer meant unpleasant and overbearing. It evolved from there to mean strict, austere, and orderly -- from there it came to mean clean and neat -- and from there it evolved to our current definition.

I also read once that the word 'ask' was originally pronounced 'ax'.
Nice as an adjective either meant foolish in ME or, as Chaucer used it to mean precise and punctilious.
Interesting, may I ask your resource? Mine was a Linguistics text...though I'll readily admit it's been awhile since I studied linguistics, I don't think I misremembered that particular progression of meaning.

Ask is from OE áscian so the 's' came first except in later dialects.
I know I read that particular tidbit in a Wikipedia article, so I won't defend its accuracy!
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Old October 4 2012, 03:44 PM   #15
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Re: Changing Language Usage

My resource is the OED (plus my memory).
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