Language is a state-based system. By that I mean the language in use by a culture tends to reflect the current needs of society, and shifts along with those needs. Much like our appendix, spleen, and tailbone, words also trail, so they may still be in use long after their need is over. This is natural, okay, and good. In our interesting “information era” society and culture are shifting faster and moving in many different directions. Walk down the streets of a city like San Francisco or New York, and it only takes a few blocks feet to realize that you live in an extremely complex and multicultural world.
Now I’m personally of the opinion that the pace of high-tech development and new products are far ahead of society’s ability to adapt and cope. The concept of the “generation gap” where a generation’s exposure to media and technology created difficulty in relating to the next generation is no longer a 20- or even 10-year cycle, but is at no more than 5 years (and dropping). Those “kids today” are exposed to technologies that I am scantly aware of, and it’s shaping a big part of the way our society is evolving.
We are currently in the midst of a transformation, caused in a large part by the evolution of social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, etc. These networks are clearly here to stay, and will evolve on their own to introduce new features and services as well as adapt to the changing needs of their users. In the mean-time, I’m noticing that a few very common words are losing their meaning, specifically due to their various implementations online (warning: much sarcasm and cynical writing follows, don’t take it too seriously if you are easily offended)…
|Word||Old meaning||New Meaning|
|Friend||Someone you knew, had a personal relationship with, occasionally spoke to, and frequently drank beers with.||Someone who found your email address and typed it into Facebook and/or LinkedIN. You may have met said person at a conference once, and possibly even conversed with for 5 or more minutes.|
|Like||Quite a few meanings, but the most common one being a word to describe a person, place, or thing you have a positive feeling about.||Two meanings: one is a word used three times per sentence for no apparent reason, the other is an item you (might have) read on FriendFeed and want to let others know they should read it as well. A very cynical variant on the latter is when the item is being liked because you want the author to know you read their content.|
|Rumor||Something overheard and/or speculated, but not substantiated.||Fact until absolutely proven incorrect.|
|The concept that an individual or company generally discloses information with little veil, spin, or secrecy.||The requirement than an individual or company must disclose every piece of detailed information, regardless of context, personal privacy, or relevance.|
|Startup||A company with a novel idea, service, product, or technology, and a vision on how to build that company into a successful, profitable entity.||A college graduate and three friends who have an incremental idea, service, product, or technology, and a vision on how to build that company such that it gets acquired by Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo (in that order), preferably within 18 months for at least 9 figures.|
|Read||To ingest all the contents of a document.||To scan a headline for interesting words.|
|Popular||To have many people who like you, albeit not necessarily to you having an outstanding personality. If in high school, gives you the power to make other peoples’ lives miserable for your entertainment.||To have many people read your writing, 140 characters at a time, albeit not necessarily to you having an outstanding personality. Transfers no other known benefits.|
|Social||Various meanings, all circulating around various aspects of society.||Nothing.|
|Poke||Two possible meanings, one having to do with jabbing a finger in a shoulder, the other NSFW (and generally required being more than just friends).||An extremely bored “friend” of yours notices your profile on Facebook and decides to pester you. Often related to them being in need of information/services you may provide that they wish to ask you for, but want to “ease into” an otherwise awkward request.|
|Gadget||An electronic device, typically hand-held, often providing novelty for several hours or even days at a time.||iPhone|
There you have it, words being killed by the Internet. Please note this list should be current for the next few weeks, but will then require revision.
I couldn’t agree more. When I first began using LinkedIn, I was careful with who I invited, who I accepted into my “circle”. Now, I speak with people who challenge each other on how many contacts they can suck into their sphere of LinkedInfluence.
Just this past week, I spoke with someone at a conference for all of 2 or 3 minutes – we exchanged cards. The next day I get an invite for Facebook & LinkedIn. I don’t even know the person at any real level.
Just like bad, fat and all of those other words out there that have now taken on new meaning. In the words of John Mellencamp, “Back when a sport was a sport and groovin was groovin…”
Are you trying to tell me I’m not really socially popular among my friends? That the poke I got when my startup buddies liked my transparency was because they didn’t read my blog post about the rumor I got VC funding?
If I had a dollar for every time I heard the word viral or social… 😉
By the way, I LOVE this Facebook parody. So true, so true:
It’s kind of ironic that I found this post because someone I don’t know shared it on FriendFeed. That said.. it was very thought provoking.
Nice post, Jeremy. As someone who spends a lot of time focused on words and their meanings, it is fascinating to see how the English language has evolved.
I’d humbly submit one more addition: loose.
Pre internet: not tight
Post internet: to lose
Yes, I know that it’s not 100% in the vein of “terms that have become devalued in our ever-increasing quest to *belong*,” but, like viral and social, its over-misuse has become ever more prevalent since the advent of the internet.
I know this list was tongue in cheek, but I couldn’t help but get a little annoyed reading all the new definitions – in particular “friend”. It should be “associate.” My traditional definition of “friend” has always been someone who’d pick you up at the airport, or help you move. 99% of the folks I’m “friends” with on these social media sites do not fit that definition.
Second, “read” is a huge bugaboo since I’ll openly admit to skimming content, almost habitually.
I think the problem we’re increasingly facing is as definitions change ever more rapidly, it’s increasingly difficult for people to communicate in any meaningful way, as the definitions don’t jibe.
Adding to your list
Viral(then): A kind of fever caused by viruses
Viral(now): A youtube video with > 1k visits
And I’ll definitely tell my children that I am from the time when social meant meeting personally
@Webomatica – to be really clear, this isn’t about what I think is the *right* direction we should be going in, but what I feel has already happened!
Seems to me that one main meaning of ‘like’ is ‘said’.
E.g.: John was like “We should get some food.” But Paul was like “I don’t want to”.
Another use of ‘like’: add it to your verbs in order to tanslate any sentence into teenager-speak.
E.g., when speaking to teenagers don’t say “I’m going out to buy a tiger”: say “I’m LIKE going out to buy a tiger”. Then they will understand you.
(Of course this particular sentence has the added benefit of leaving them anxiously wondering what the heck you actually plan to do with this tiger.)
Pingback: The Internet, killer of words | Ed Bott’s Windows Expertise |
Excellent list. ‘Friend’ has also become a verb, as in: “I’ll friend her of Facebook”. Other words that are almost dead include ‘text’ as in SMS messaging, ‘wall’ as used in Facebook, and ‘scrap’ as used in Orkut.
Was about to have a look for yer on Facebook Jez – but worried cause i never met yer at all :-)..
Ps actually I did search and Facebook crashed – must be too many people searching yer out lol…!!
Pps enjoying the blog keep posting please!!
Pingback: Since Facebook, friends aren’t what they used to be | The Evolving Newsroom
Pingback: New Words, Old Words. « Professional Open Source Documentation
Pingback: Tom Conlon Fans » Discoveries: 8/20 to 8/21
Pingback: The Language of Change, and the Changing of Language » On Writing, Tech, and Other Loquacities