Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Language Predictions for 2015

English is a vibrant, changing language. Some language change is good (e.g., drifting away from sexist language), and some is bad (e.g., incentivize, office used as a verb). But regardless of our personal reactions to language change, it is inevitable.

New technologies and unexpected situations can sometimes suddenly give new life to old words or bring new words into the fold. These types of changes can be difficult to predict. Other changes, though, we can see coming. (Did anyone really expect on-line and e-mail to retain their hyphens?) If we're thoughtful and observant, we can spot where trendlines might shift or innovations might occur.

Here are my language-related predictions for 2015:

(1) The Most Selfish President Ever

Someone will tally up the number of first-person singular pronouns that President Obama uses in his State of the Union address and will conclude that the "high" number proves that Obama is the most egotistical president since Jefferson. This pronouncement will be made in spite of the fact that Obama's State of the Union address will contain the fewest number of Is, mes, mys, and mines since JFK.

(2) 1984 in 2015

If the streak of untried (in the legal sense) police-action killings continues, protestors and pundits will need a word to describe the rise in America of a type of dystopian environment not seen in modern times outside of fiction or North Korea. They will naturally look to George Orwell, the author of that literary beacon of subjugation and oppression, 1984.

I predict that orwell will become a verb indicating the shift from a government protecting the governed to a government that protects itself from the governed, encompassing judicial lenience toward maleficent police behavior, limitations on freedom of the press, and the continued militarization of law enforcement departments.

For example: "The citizens knew the house-to-house search was unconstitutional, but the local government was so orwelled up that no one had the guts to complain about it publicly."

We'll also see a verb of similar meaning but with religious and Luddite overtones: "By intentionally destroying the region's only power substation, the new regime completely kimjonged the area.

(3) New for the DSM

Students of psychology (especially those of the self-styled type) will fumble for a neologism to describe the cognitive dissonance that comes from sympathizing with the frustration and anger of American-made, anti-government militias while still believing their members are all a bunch of right-wing nutjobs. By the end of summer, the word nondissympathy will have gained currency, and it will be misspelled most of the time.

During a press conference, a prominent conservative of a particular type (Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, you know the type I mean) will begin a statement with the phrase "It isn't that I'm not nondissympathetic against these folks...," which will spawn no fewer than six doctoral theses by linguistics post-grads.

(4) A backlash against mass-produced artistry

Barring new regulations limiting the words homemade, handmade, and artisanal (similar to the regulation of the word diet on foods), actual artisans and craftspeople will struggle to find a word or phrase to differentiate their truly handmade wares from mass-produced goods. The following will all make an appearance:
  • "Person-made"
  • "Small-oven foods"
  • "Single-crafted"
  • "Shed-made" (leading to "shedded")
  • "Crafted, not assembled"
  • "Heart-hewn"
  • "Touched by ten fingers only"
  • "Personally fingered"
The word bespoke will gain wider usage in the next year, stretching way beyond its historical use in tailoring and haberdashery. By the end of the year, more than one IT consultancy will be marketing bespoke digital networks.

The word-conscious will rail futilely against the increased and erroneous appearance of bespoken, which will be Merriam-Webster's  2015 Word of the Year.

(5) Literally a figurative meaning swap

The ongoing degradation of literally will reach a critical stage such that its use either as an intensifier or to mean "figuratively" will outpace its original denotation. (This might already have happened.) People looking to fill the hole in the vocabulary where literally used to reside will naturally settle on figuratively, which would otherwise fall into disuse.

Folk etymologies rationalizing the new meaning of figuratively will follow, linking it to the concrete precision of "mathematical figures."

The word-conscious will continue to rant against these usages, but they'll both start appearing in dictionaries by 2020. A decade hence, it will be a moot point.*
* This statement is funny to people who know the history of the word moot.

What language events or changes do you expect to see in the new year?