Those of us of a certain age have had to cope with many changes in the language we inherited. I myself feel pretty proud of how I’ve rolled with the punches. After a couple of decades of going through whatever contortions were needed to avoid splitting an infinitive, I learned how to split one without wincing.
In the 1960s , I admired from a distance such expressions of enthusiasm as “outta sight” and “farout,” although I was never quite hip enough to use them myself without implicit quotes.
In that same period, although employed as an English teacher, I learned to enjoy the replacement of plain old “I said” with “I was, like…” or “I was all…” although, again, without feeling quite comfortable availing myself of that expressiveness .
As a parent, I came eventually to respect (that’s one infinitive I still can’t bring myself to split) the war made by my son’s generation on the nominative case and the after-you-Alphonse modesty we grew up with. Introducing a story with “my friend Jack and I…” definitely took on an uptight (if you will pardon a 60sism I did absorb) ring compared with my son’s “me and my friend Jack”. (For a long time I thought that would die out with aging beyond teens, but I’ve observed it going strong into their 30s.)
I felt too old to adopt that democratic, honest grammar myself, but I could dig it. (A beatnik metaphor for “comprehend” or “get” I did and do dig, however it misdates me as a contemporary of Kerouac.)
But nothing in this lifetime of going with the flow of language has prepared me for the flood of computer-inspired words. I find myself for the first time unable to keep up, my mind apparently hardened into a shape that precludes my understanding a word like “meme” for instance. (Notice the ease with which I didn’t feel compelled to use “such as”, although apparently still needing credit for my adaptability. )
Seems like virtually everything’s a meme these days, and yet I wouldn’t recognize one if it came up and bit me on the nose. I’ve looked it up in wikipedia, I’ve struggled to understand, but as close as I can get to what it means is “thing.” But we already had the word “thing,” so that can’t be right. Definitely “a thing,” something else altogether.
The other word which seems ubiquitous is “algorithm”. If it’s not a meme it’s an algorithm. Maybe it can be both at the same time? I looked that up and it means something like a way of doing something, maybe like a recipe? But again, we already had those words, so why the new one? I seem lightyears from having the courage to try either in a sentence.
And as for “dank meme”–I looked that up,too. Don’t ask.
All the new computer terms can make me feel that my native language is leaving me behind.
The biggest and most mysterious linguistic sea change of all seems completely unrelated to computers: the ascendency of “hey” at the expense of “hi.” Most of my life “hi” was the go-to informal greeting. “Hey” was exclusively an attention getter–” hey, you over there.” At some point perhaps two or three decades ago I started hearing “hey.” Always interested in keeping up with the times, I started to use it occasionally myself. Now I find myself using it all the time, always feeling a little disloyal to the familiar old greeting I grew up with, n ow sitting in the corner wondering what it did wrong.
I’ve noticed that NPR anchors use “hey” in greeting their reporters.(Is it in their style book?) Mary Louise , on whose voice I admit I have a considerable crush, says “Hey there ” in a way that can only be described as flirtatious. But I suppose “hey and “hey there” are different worlds.
Why is “hey” replacing “hi”? What does it portend for the republic? It’s definitely become a thing. Probably a meme.