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Acronyms, Idioms and Slang: the Evolution of the English Language

Updated September 6, 2022

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Acronyms, Idioms and Slang: the Evolution of the English Language essay

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Although the English language is only 1500 years old, it has evolved at an incredible rate: so much so, that, at first glance, the average person in America today would find most Shakespearean literature confusing without the aid of an Old-English dictionary or Cliff’s Notes.

Yet Shakespear lived just 300 years ago! Some are seeing this is a sign of the decline of the English language, that people are becoming less and less literate. As R. Walker writes in his essay “Why English Needs Protecting,” “the moral and economic decline of Great Britain in the post-war era has been mirrored by a decline in the English language and literature.” I, however, disagree. It seems to me that the point of language is to communicate to express some idea or exchange some form of information with someone else.

In this sense, the English language seems, not necessarily to be improving or decaying, but optimizing becoming more efficient. It has been both said and observed that the technological evolution of a society tends to grow exponentially rather than linearly. The same can also be said of the English language. English is evolving on two levels: culturally and technologically. And both of these are unavoidable. Perhaps the more noticeable of the two today is the technological evolution of English.

When the current scope of a given language is insufficient to describe a new concept, invention, or property, then there becomes a necessity to alter, combine, or create words to provide a needed definition. For example, the field of Astro-Physics has provided the English language with such new terms as pulsar, quasar, quark, black hole, photon, neutrino, positron etc. Similarly, our society has recently be inundated with a myriad of new terms from the field of Computer Science: motherboard, hard drive, Internet, megabyte, CD, IDE, SCSI, TCP/IP, WWW, HTTP, DMA, GUI and literally hundreds of others acronyms this particular field is notorious for. While some of these terms, such as black hole and hard drive, are just a combination of pre-existing words, many of them are new words altogether. To me it seems clear that anything that serves to increase the academic vocabulary of a society should be welcomed, although not all would agree.

For example, many have accused this trend of creating an acronym for everything to be impersonal and confusing. And, while I agree that there is really no need to abbreviate Kentucky Fried Chicken, it does become tiring to have to constantly say Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) or Transfer Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) when they are both used so frequently when dealing with computers on a network. Not only is it futile for one to reject these inevitably new additions to our language, one would do oneself well to actually learn them. The cultural evolution of English is not as distinguishable, nor seemingly as necessary, as the technological evolution of English, yet it exists nonetheless.

It is on this level that the English language has primarily been accused of being in a state of decline, specifically by the incorporation of “slang” into mainstream language. But Webster’s Dictionary defines slang as: 1: language peculiar to a particular group: as a: ARGOT b: JARGON 2: an informal nonstandard vocabulary composed typically of coinages, arbitrarily changed words, and extravagant, forced, or facetious figures of speech. In this sense, much of what is commonly thought to be proper English can be said to be slang. When the U.S. declared its independence from England, one of the things scholars did was change the spelling of certain English words: colour was changed to color, theatre to theater, etc. In addition, Americans have, over time, given new names for certain things: what we call a trunk (of a car), the English call a boot; what we call an apartment, the English call a flat, etc.

But because they have been in use for so long, they are no longer considered to be slang words. R. Walker writes, “if slang and jargon are fixed in the language, a process begun by their addition to the dictionary, it helps to make them official.” It seems then, that a word is slang only if it has not yet been accepted, that it is instead a candidate whose initiation into the English language is determined by popular opinion and time. Slang in America today, while varying from region to region, has one major theme in common it is short. And while history has shown that most of it will die never making official “word” status to be replaced by new slang words, some of it will stay.

The word dis (short for disrespect), for example, has become a popular word used by more than just Generation X. What’s interesting, however, is that even the nature of current everyday prose has begun to shorten: it is more direct and to the point. As an example of older- -style writing, Stephen Jay Gould, in his essay “Counters and Cable Cars,” writes: Consequently, in San Francisco this morning, I awoke before sunrise in order to get my breakfast of Sears’s famous eighteen pancakes (marvel not, they’re very small) before the morning crush of more amenable hours rendered the restaurant uninhabitable on Berra’s maxim. This piece, while cleverly phrased, has a wordiness to it that would rarely be found in the average present-day essay. This is not because writers of today have smaller vocabularies than essayist of yesteryear (although they might), but rather because there is a much simpler way of saying exactly what Gould said.

Ever since my very first English class, I have been told that, as a writer, it is my job to get the reader’s attention, for I have something I wish them to read. Furthermore, as a writer, it is also my job to communicate clearly to my audience. In this respect, why choose one word that is fairly uncommon (amenable) when other less ambiguous words could be used. This is not to say that writers should cater to the lowest common denominator the everyday reader should still be held responsible for developing a reasonable vocabulary. Nevertheless, when a writer uses more words than are necessary to convey accurately his/her message, he/she has is doing their message an injustice.

Thus, in the writing of today there can generally be seen a more direct, seemingly less ambiguous tone and direction (save for the uneducated). The days when it was looked upon favorably to write in great length and use as many “big” words as were possible is over. That style, albeit elegant, does not suffice in this fast-paced society. Acronyms, idioms, and slang are constantly in the making, providing new, quicker ways for people to convey ideas and exchange information.

English, in the coming century, will inevitably come to focus more on the actual message than the package it is delivered in. It follows then, that what be developed in the children of the future, more than anything else, is their ability to think; to formulate a thought worthy of sharing. For, no matter what shape the English language takes in coming years, what will never change is the desire and need our of society to communicate.

Acronyms, Idioms and Slang: the Evolution of the English Language essay

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Acronyms, Idioms and Slang: the Evolution of the English Language. (2019, Apr 06). Retrieved from