Thursday, November 3, 2011

Neologisms: Friends or Foes?


Adorkable: 2. Both dorky and adorable. A higher state of being all dorks strive towards.[1]

I like this newly created term for a few reasons – firstly, because it’s quirky. Secondly, because it puts a positive spin on smart people who may not have been star quarterbacks or head cheerleaders in high school (says the former captain of the marching band and President of the French Club). Nerd smile Thirdly, it’s a perfect example of language adapting to cultural change.

Adorkable Graph 9-28-11

A few months ago, I read an article from BBC news regarding the various Americanisms popping up and how much British people hate them. The original article was so popular among our friends across the pond that the BBC actually posted a follow-up article with reader comments and additional examples of what they consider infuriating new words and/or phrases. As a professional translator, and someone who spent many hours in college learning about language evolution, I found this article very interesting and thought-provoking. Why get so worked up about neologisms when language has always been (and will always be) ever-changing?

Most of us (especially anglophones) probably learned about the various stages of the English language:

English Timeline

The evolution of the French language happened in much the same way (as I’m sure is the case for many other languages):

French timeline

As the world changes, language has no choice but to follow. How else would we tweet about the latest version of the iphone, how much we hate the newest changes to facebook (although I actually like them), or the hottest eco-friendly innovations hitting the market?

As translators and/or interpreters, it is just as important to stay abreast of new words and expressions as it is new translation technologies, because if we don’t know a new word or phrase, how can we translate it?

Therefore, this is what I have to say to the BBC and their Americanism-hating readership:

Let me give you a heads up[2], guys[1] – I’m sorry you’ve got issues[2] with our hike[1] in neologisms that you feel are coming out of left field[1], and the way we pronounce the letter zee[2], but you can’t let it faze[1] you. You’re talented[1] people, so if you want, cut your losses, tap into the now, step up to the plate[1], turn it around, and buck the trend by contributing more of your own neologisms going forward[2], because like it or not, it is what it is[2]. Language evolves whether you’re doing the evolving or not. Period[2].



[1] Urban Dictionary Online, s.v. “Adorkable,” accessed September 25, 2011,