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A word to the wise: Get a grip on our changing language before it changes you

Opinion

Actions may speak louder than words, but it’s our ability to respond to our changing language that really matters, writes Rebecca Levingston

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I’m stuck on a Wordle.

You probably know what that is – even if you don’t Wordle.
https://www.powerlanguage.co.uk/wordle/

It’s a word game that’s got language lovers feeling feverish. In a good way. And I’ve caught the virus. So while I try and work out the Wordle, I feel like writing about words.

And weirdly, maths. Well, percentages that’ve become words.
Have you noticed how people now express emphatic agreement simply by saying “100%”?

In most sports interviews, it’s the response of choice. Young blokes love it.

“Hundred percent,” they’ll say with enthusiasm.
I think that an extended “H” sound at the start helps to convey total agreement.

It’s replaced “absolutely” which is a word that really annoyed some people. Complainants said it was overused. That happens, doesn’t it? A word becomes common and then you hear it everywhere. And then someone gets sick of it.

I often say words that annoy people on the radio. Sometimes it’s because of pronunciation. Military. Diaspora. The emphasis can be tricky. Omicron was temporarily tough until it became a word the whole world was using.

Recently I received some constructive feedback from a listener. She told me I use the word bunch too much. Bunch! It’s so much fun to say. Packs a punch. My listener disagreed and sent me this email…

Rebecca…
Please please stop over-using, the word “bunch” for every group of people and things!!
The latest example was“a bunch of mayors”… Really??
A bunch of flowers or grapes, yes, but a bunch of mayors, ideas etc?

I enjoy listening to you and your program, but this lazy speech and
lack of imagination is beginning to be too much and too often on air.

You are a well-educated, intelligent person who loves language.
Surely you have a wider knowledge of collective nouns which would be
more appropriate – eg a committee of mayors, even a collection or set of ideas.

I do realise that speech on-air is on-the-run but please stop yourself, pause
for a second and select a different word to this now over-used, popular vernacular.
With much respect and regards…

I appreciated the respectful correspondence and responded in kind.

There are some excellent options to replace bunch. Try mob, bundle, stack, oodles or cluster. Now there’s a word that’s snuck into common use.

Some words lose their meaning the more they’re used. Crisis is omnipresent. Pick an industry, you’ll find a crisis. Are we quicker to use extreme language or is catastrophe now commonplace?

Words change too. In 2022, some words have adopted a whole new meaning.

RATs. You want them at your house now.
Corona used to be a drink.
Essential keeps expanding.
Booster has really been bumped up.

I can’t remember learning the phrase “social distancing”, now it’s hard to imagine life without it. Astra Zeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax. You can rattle them off like they’re brands of milk.

New words, but you you quickly learn what they mean. Sometimes you might disagree with old adjectives that have new associations. Is Western Australia a hermit kingdom or paradise? Maybe both.

Language responds. It evolves. It’s alive so it grows and changes. Sometimes that’s painful.

This week, people have used different words to describe the same day.
January 26 is Australia Day. Invasion Day. Survival Day.

So here’s another word game to try.

Think of three words to describe Australia.
Now think of the opposite of those three words.
Take a moment to understand why you and your fellow Australian might experience the same country very differently. No need argue. Just pause to see the opposite view. The antonym could be the antidote.

We keep learning new words. We can keep seeing different perspectives can’t we?

Maybe then we can find the words to keep describing the country we are, we were and want to be.

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