Our Evolving English Language

Published 11:50 am Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occasionally, you hear or see something that makes you feel really old. Such was the case when I read on the front page of the Wall Street Journal that the words “cassette player” were being deleted from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. I realize that words or phrases come and go over time, but I was nearly grown when the cassette player hit the music scene. How proud I was when I replaced my bulky 8-track player with a smaller cassette player in my first car. My next car even had a player built into the radio!

In fact, most of my automobiles until recently have had a cassette player built in along with the more recent CD player. Cassette tapes really broadened the access to recorded music for the public. It led to the boombox craze during the 1980’s that allowed you not only to listen to the radio on the beach, but also to take along your own recorded music. That fact alone probably kept the Beach Boys popular for another generation.

Only this past year did I take the cassette player out of our music system at home. However, the player remains in our garage because I just can’t bring myself to throw it away. I must have 20 years of recordings of our church’s Christmas Cantatas on cassette tapes. What if I want to listen to them one day? Who my age could forget the Walkman? It was a portable player that played cassette tapes and truly let you chose your own music no matter where you went. You no longer had to be in your car or carrying a boombox.

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For the first time, teenagers could plug up their ears and be oblivious to those around them. The Walkman became a pop icon and a must have for any cool teenager. It represented freedom, youth and individuality. This product alone made Sony a leader in the music industry. Indeed, some phrases still in use today had their popular origins in the cassette player era. Think “fast-forward” and “pause.” It was not until Apple’s iPod made its debut that anything rivaled the Walkman in the way that it transformed our listening habits.

And they want to delete “cassette player” from the dictionary? Some other words being deleted this year include “threequel”, “video jockey,” and “S-VHS.” They are being replaced by words such as “mankini” and “jeggins”. For those of you, like me, that don’t know what a jeggin is, the best definition I could find was they are like half jeans and half leggings. Essentially the fabric is stretchy and soft like leggings.

For the old men out there struggling to visualize that particular definition, I won’t even begin to define a “mankini”. Believe me, it is worse than you imagine. Chances are pretty good you won’t ever see one in person in Southwest Georgia. For that, we can be thankful. Other words or phrases added to our vocabulary this year include “light-bulb moment,” “bloggable,” “trackpad,” “onliner,” “cyberbullying,” and “sexting.” As you can see, the computer age that now controls so much of our communication is also providing new words for our dictionary.

Each of those words is so new that my computer’s spell-checker still highlights them, yet I am already familiar with each of those words. One word I haven’t heard of is “tanorexia,” which is simply a tanning addiction. I liked a tan in my youth as much as anyone in those days. Now I am paying the price for all those sunburns. Still, I didn’t know that it had been certified as an addiction or that it now has its own word.

“Sammich,” the red-neck version of sandwich, is now official. What would my high school English teachers say? Even “TMI” is now considered a word. For those of you that don’t text, it is texting shorthand for “too much information.” I guess that just as we have evolved from 78’s and LP albums in listening to music, the English language continues to change as well. I can’t wait to play a game of Scrabble. I’ll just have to keep my new dictionary handy.