As language evolves, so do its uses. The OED is updated every year with new words discovered down the back of the vocabulary sofa or words/concepts crossing over from populist culture.
‘Girl Power’, ‘Chav’ (a strange word of dubious etymology and with no clear definition) and the ubiquitous ‘bling’ have made recent editions of the OED, after doing the rounds of populist vocabulary. For those people with an allergy to vowels, ‘Grrrls’ saves reaching for the Piriton.
‘Grrrls’ are, apparently, a more militant creature than plain old vowel-enhanced girls, and more intent on subverting the male-centric societal pattern. This is an excellent example of linguistic structure being subverted to make a socio-political point and one could compare Greer’s ‘Herstory’ for a similar linguistic bending and subsequent appropriation.
In a different vein, the words ‘bitch’ and ‘nigger’ have been reappropriated by sections of the community as a badge of honour, and subsequent re-uses can be seen in both day to day life and more widely in film/music media.
This is tremendously exciting and something that any dedicated communicator should feel strongly about. The adaptability and flexibility of the English language marries perfectly with design and communications culture – use of language is an art in its own right and no longer plays second fiddle to flash graphics or sharp design. Language is the new design.
So where does this leave the mass media communicator? Do they have to catch the tail of the zeitgeist, get dragged through the latest trends and then swap hands to grab another linguistic Segway as it zips past?
Mass media communicators should be able to straddle the fine line between riding a trend and getting carried away by it, man. The are no ‘cats’ any more, apart from in living rooms or in exhausts. The contemporary vibrancy of that language is dead, and any mass communicator to use it now would talk beyond their target audience.
And yet, language is so evocative of period. The twists and subtleties that each generation brings to the linguistics of its parent enrich the language beyond measure, but only some of that richness is passed through generations.
To the communicator, this tool is the most precious thing. Like a flint axe, it is there to be sharpened, honed, turned into a plough before being strapped to a stake and used as an axe. It is the greatest tool and should be both used and played with.