I was totes emosh, obvs.

‘I was totes emosh, obvs.’
If I speak it, and it is understood by another, it is language. It doesn’t matter which words I use, as long as I know that my conversational partner can understand them. The evolution of our language is indicative of a culture evolving, and now that the world is so much smaller (thanks to technology) our language is becoming a product of the evolution of many different cultures, and now also times: ‘I was totes psyched to be able to Skype you lady, huzzah!’ This sentence was actually said to me once (online no less, technology, huzzah) and I loved it , mostly because of the lovely sentiment, but also because I realised that that sentence spans nearly 700 years. The origins of the word ‘Huzzah’ can be traced back to the 13th Century, with the word ‘Hurree’. ‘Lady’ is also centuries old and yet I am seeing it used regularly on my 18 year old niece’s Facebook page. Very young girls are now calling their friends ‘lady’ as a term of affection. It’s pretty beautiful when you think about it. Feminism is now using old language and the young ladies using that language may not even be aware of it, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.

I believe we need to embrace new language, language that’s evolving. What was the first thing you did once you learned to confidently ride a bike? You did standing-up riding, right? You practised wheelies and carrying your friends on the handlebars – because you were looking for a way to evolve what you knew. Once we can saddle and ride a horse, we want to jump that fence, right? It’s the same with language. Once you’ve got to grips with it, you want to play with it and what it can do. Once you get anything, it’s yours to play with. I love grammar and I’ve written about being a grammar geek in previous blogs. I can be a bit of a snob about past and present, language lineage and my hatred of the mis-use of the revered apostrophe, but I’m also a huge fan of language experiments and pushing boundaries. Why can’t I delight in being called an ‘amaze-balls badger’ if I appreciate what that means?

I also have strong opinions on the ownership of certain words, but they are perhaps a little controversial and I need to do more research before I publish them. I will say that there is a word which is owned by women, one which is owned by black people and another which is owned by gay people. Those words are not ours if we do not belong to those groups, and I believe we all need to respect that. That is very much to do with my point about only playing with language if you know how to use it: if you try a wheelie before you’ve taken the stabilizers off, you will fail. If you try and get a horse to jump a fence before you’ve learned how to put the saddle on properly, you will fail (and fall). If you chuck language around that you don’t understand and haven’t taken the time to learn, you will fail (and possibly offend).

This leads me to shared language. This is the absolute best. This is shared reference and in-jokes. This is a group of people on a shared experience referencing things that no one else could possibly understand. This is family and long relationships of friendships and love and the shared references they create. In-jokes are the building blocks of relationships, as is the sharing of language between cultures. I have recently started dating a Highlander; apparently Tesco was ‘hoaching’ on Saturday (that means Tesco was crowded and busy). My Welsh family want to know ‘where that jacket is to’, and my Texas friends tell me to ‘shag ass’ when it’s time to hurry up (that went down hilariously with my German mother). My mum is German born but has lived in Wales for over thirty years. There are still some colloquialisms that catch her out. It’s great, it’s cultures colliding.

Nicknames are even better. I am ‘Eccles’, ‘Bruce’, Fatty’, ‘Dude’ and ‘Allen’ sometimes in the same day. Private language and nicknames are wonderful, it’s indicative of intimacy. When we were kids, my sister and I made up our own language,’ Jada’. The grounds were simple: distort English beyond all recognition to anyone but us. We must have sounded ridiculous, but it worked. We managed to make our conversations completely indecipherable. I still remember a few words of ‘Jada’ now. Kay and I can now converse almost entirely in references and quotes, and that’s because we’ve grown up together. Siblings have a shared language that’s tighter and more sophisticated than anything I’ve heard.

Language is evolving and the dictionary must keep up. I believe that the dictionary must be adhered to, but it’s a two-way street; the dictionary must also be aware of the evolution of language and how it’s used today. Language is more political now than ever, but we are blurring the lines and we are taking ownership-that’s wonderful. ‘LOL’ – does that mean ‘Lots of love’ or ‘Laugh out loud’? There have been many instances of that being misunderstood; that’s an example of language evolution going meta.

I think that, like anything, once you understand something, it's yours to play with, but language is the most powerful weapon on earth, and we must use it with care. LOL.

(c) Jade Allen 2014

A blog about language