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The Birth and Death of Words

March 18, 2012

This is a fascinating study of the birth and death of words.  I’ve always been a purist when it comes to the English language…though I admit I’m nowhere near where I should be in the use of the English language.   As an example, marketing professionals have always created words that seem to flow off the tongue better  or seemingly better represent the qualities of a particular product than the more traditional.  Case in point, crispy vs. crisp.  Crispy wasn’t used until more recently (past 50-60 years) and moisturizer vs. moistener.  If you go back to older reference materials you’ll notice these two, amongst many others, simple didn’t exist.  This study used 5,195,769 Google eBooks from 1800-2000 representing approximately 4% of all book ever published to see how word usage has changed over time.  It’s truly a fascinating study of the linguistic changes to our language stemming from mostly cultural shifts…or are the use of some words responsible for some cultural changes?  You decide.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304459804577285610212146258.html 

Quantitative analysis of culture using millions of digitized books.

From → Science, Sociology

5 Comments
  1. Well… if you want to be prescriptive, what about reviewing your texts before posting them? For what I know of English language grammar rules, there is a couple words here that strike me as odd.

  2. Then again, check out David Crystal’s “The Stories of English”. Fascinating, from the least prescriptive linguist I ever found – and one of very few books I read cover to cover more than twice in my adult life.

  3. Scott Mandella permalink

    Hmmm… your example: crisp vs crispy, is an interesting one. I can say that a potato chip was crisp, or crispy. I can say that the weather was crisp, but cannot describe the weather as crispy.

    The study of a society’s culture is not complete without an understanding of the language; and the complexity of any language is better understood with an understanding of the language spoken in that society. This is evident when using a translator.

    And finally, a word becomes a word when it is commonly understood by anyone using that language. Adding the suffix “y” can turn the noun “crisp” into an adjective describing an object. Though this rule cannot be articulated by most, most can apply that rule and create a new word. I am sure the word stead was in use before the now more commonly used word steady…. no?

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