I know, I know, language is continually in flux, but really, some of the stuff that words flux to…is that even a word? Eons ago, when I was not yet as old as dirt, the meanings of words were clear as a bell. When someone said, “I woke up,” you asked them what time did you wake up. When someone said, “Cool!”, it referred to temperature. Of course, so did “Hot,” but those both changed quickly enough. Actually, they became interchangeable, depending on whether you were talking about something really special (I almost said “neat” there, but that shifted too…) or talking about that insanely handsome boy/gorgeous girl across from you in Geometry class. See, I’m dating myself here, I know.
Some things have been totally absorbed into the culture, like AWOL. Everybody knows that means Absent Without Leave. But who remembers what SCUBA means? Didja figure it out yet? Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Device. Both from the military world, where conciseness or speed necessitated shortening wherever you could. Jeep is another one. Lots of controversy there. Some say G stood for that type of vehicle made by Ford, and the P for the specific model. Most commonly, it’s said to mean General Purpose. Either way, say GP fast, and it comes out jeep. Much more efficient.
How many things of my generation have to be explained to the younger set? Do they know what a manual typewriter is? I’ve had to explain it’s not electric; fingers make metal letters leap up to create a black mark on paper rolled in by hand, which is moved to the next line by hand too. My own old standby, until I went to college, just before which we could purchase an electric typewriter. Gasp! Such innovation!
As one who lived through three days of constant television when John F. Kennedy was assassinated…Wait, no, not that Kennedy, JFK…the president? Just a name on a list of memorized presidents for many. Anyway, I know from that what a catafalque is. I’ll give you a minute. It’s not a false cat. I’d make a joke about it not being related to Peter Falk, but few remember that he was an actor. Well, maybe they will know the name Columbo, as in the detective from the TV show. No? Well, he was very popular. How about catafalque? It’s the table on which a casket of a famous person is placed, in order to lie in state.
When I ask, “Who was that masked man?” if I see someone I don’t know, will anyone remember that it was a tagline for The Lone Ranger, a former Texas Ranger dedicated to bringing justice to the wild West? I can still hear the theme song from the TV show in my head. What? Oh. It was the William Tell Overture by Rossini. (I confess, I had to look up the composer…)
Now, of course, language continues to evolve. Although maybe devolve is a better name. Things are happening as they used to in the military: things get shortened. Take LOL. And therein lies a tale…
A fellow teacher left in a rush one Friday afternoon for a theater vacation out East. Monday, 5 a.m. came and I checked email before heading off for school. From the teacher: “Auditioned. Got the role! But they want me now, so I’ll see you in a month. LOL. LOL? Lots of Love? What was he talking about? As department chair, I needed to make sure his classes were covered. But he didn’t send any lesson plans. I jetted off to school. Once there, I could see the teacher’s door open at the end of the hall. There he sat, calmly sipping tea. “What are you doing here?” “I work here, remember?” he said. I shook the email at him. “You signed it, Lots of Love.” He laughed. “Not Lots of Love. LOL. Laugh Out Loud.” I wasn’t laughing. “In my day, LOL meant Lots of Love.” In my day…brother, I was getting old. I AM old!
Now, here’s one–or two, rather. What is a Swiftie? Yes, yes, I know you’re going to say, “A rabid follower of Taylor Swift.” You would be…wrong! Well, yes, okay, I’ll concede that you’re right…for contemporary times. But for those of us that go back a few more years, a Swiftie, as in Tom, is a pun between a verb and its adverb. For example, “I like hockey,” Tom said puckishly. Ha, ha! Although, the difference is really more obvious, as a Tom Swifty is spelled with a y, not with ie. Tom said magically. See there? Spell? Magic? That’s a Swifty, or Swiftie, if you prefer. Confusing? Never mind…
Then there’s cosplay. That’s short for costume play, as in dressing up in costumes for a Marvel movie or convention, or like Dracula for a Dracula ballet. How about ghosted? Have you done that to anyone lately? As in cutting off communication rather abruptly, leaving the other person wondering if you…turned into a ghost. Woke no longer means surfacing from sleep. It’s now an adjective, as in a person alert to social injustice. We are finally woke people.
I must confess, one that grates on my sensibilities is the word passed, and not as in football. When I first heard that someone passed, I asked if the old guy finally passed his driving exam. Pshaw! Imagine my…well, my dismay and embarrassment, when they told me he died! Not in my generation. That would be passed away or passed on. But passed, by itself? Nope. That’s one shortening that may bother me for a long time. I have, however, learned to keep my mouth shut.
What’s next? Will Boomers no longer be a perjorative, a put-down, an insult? Will Old People themselves need explanation?? Your guess is as good as mine!