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Evolving language

Last updated on February 7, 2023

As I was reading an article about how half of the world’s languages are in danger of dying out, I started thinking about just how much the English language has changed and evolved, a language spoken by nearly half a billion people every day.

I’m not talking about the changes since Shakespeare’s time, with phrases like “whether ’tis nobler in the mind….” I’m talking about the last 50 years. More than just the authentic turn of a phrase in Mad Men, I’m absolutely fascinated by the common, child-accessible language in some of my son’s Little Golden Books that are stacked on my coffee table.

Don’t believe me? Try Scuffy the Tugboat. “Scuffy was sad. Scuffy was cross.” When was the last time you heard “cross” used in casual conversation by someone under the age of 60? Or Tootle, with words like “gay” as a synonym for “happy” or “queer” as a synonym for “strange.” (Never mind that the entire story of Tootle seems to be a parable for the importance of living a straight life.)

As a result, my three-year-old son sometimes speaks like my grandmother. “I’m happy as a lark,” he’ll say, mimicking The Poky Little Puppy. Or from the same book, “I fell down, roly poly, pell mell, tumble bumble.” I can guarantee that there are no other kids in his preschool who talk quite like this.

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