“OMG” Words and Language Are Always Changing
by Lucy Ji, age 15
You know those simple, basic words that we use all the time but don’t think much about? Well, some of them have been around for over 10,000 years.
The phrase “use it or lose it” doesn’t only refer to skills like singing or playing sports. It also applies to words. Linguists (scientists that study language) have identified 200 words taken from 87 languages that share a Mesopotamian ancestry. Despite their shared history, scientists can’t predict which words will change in the future and why.
Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in England, was determined to solve this mystery and recently put these common words into a computer program.
Pagel’s analysis identified the key to understanding the evolution of words: “use it or lose it.” The words used most regularly in daily speech are also the ones that have come to take different forms across different languages. For example, words such as “I,” “two,” “three,” “five” and “who” were the oldest, meaning they were probably used quite frequently. Words used less often become altered overtime and are generally replaced within a period of just 800 years.
Given the ever-changing expressions we use, it’s difficult to keep track of terms that survive through the ages. The editors and students at the Simpson Street Free Press often collaborate when discussing words. It is also sometimes very funny. They don’t know what “OMG” means and we’ve never heard “let your fingers do the walking.” In this way we teach each other about the generational gaps that occur in language. It’s fun and we do it a lot.
The changes made to words and the addition of new words, however, is mainly based on the current generation. Although that is true, it’s still important that we students work to expand our vocabulary. That way people 800 years from now won’t have such a limited range of words, consisting of “LOL” and “OMG”.
[Sources: National Geographics; Atlas of World History]