Words matter. They have to. They’re what we use to define the world around us. Their common structure and definition are what allow you and me to communicate, how you read the words I’ve written on this blog.
Academically and socially, how we use words can show the level of our education. Those with a higher level education are more apt to function within the defined laws and rules and regulations of grammar and spelling. Those from a lower caste, such as one might find in inner cities, like Philadelphia, use a different language. This (I guess I should call it dialect) varies so drastically from popular grammar, as taught in most middle and high schools across the United States that those who might be otherwise considered native speakers of English are relegated to take ESL for Inner City Students.
I say this because these subcultures, as defined by the speakers and the choices made regarding their words, can unintentionally and detrimentally generate a metamorphosis of the language. And, if language is culture, then that’s a whole different conversation. Using the proper word must matter.
Interestingly, a convincing argument can be made for reduction of the English language. Local slang often takes on the form of that which it mimics and hopes to become. Pidgin in Hawaii long ago became a dialect. But it is within this cultural blend of words and meaning that trouble often arises, even for those who are educated on the manner. Words and grammatical short cuts deemed acceptable or cool.
So, here we have several examples of Fallen Words, their true meaning slowly corrupted, as the boundaries—one arduously defended by the Elite had begun to crumble.
[immortal/invulnerable] – Close, but often poorly chosen. Invulnerable means the person cannot be killed. It does mean that said person will live forever. That ability to live forever is immortality. Immortality with invulnerability is something special. Many people misuse this concept. Portraying the idea of immortal as unkillable, when it means that age cannot kill them but a spear surely could.
[ironic/coincidence] – Oh, Alanis Morrisette has much to pay for. Rain on the wedding day is a bummer but not ironic. But, one song, destroyed the proper use of a word. What she keeps referring to are coincidences. The fact that it rained today and you were in a bad mood? Coincidence, your dog dies from an infection from getting his fur cleaned. Unfortunate.
[literally/metaphorically] Michael Jordan can’t literally be dying while he’s playing on the court. It’s just a thing. It’s a metaphor. And yes, the rampant use of the literally has resulted in repercussions for, and not just the misuse of the word, but the redefinition of the word. Merriam Webster, in an attempt to be cool, has added under literally the definition of metaphor.
And that’s Ironic. Thanks for something, Lady’s and Lord’s. What pet grammar peeves that others exhibit bug you? I know several that straight up bug my brother, since he taught English in another country. And these are the small voices of dissent we must have accompany us on every journey into the world of the story we attempt to tell.
So, What Words Would you Choose Carefully? Which do you think don’t matter? Why?