A Few Words About Words

by, John J. Fanning

According to the Global Language Monitor, an Austin, Texas company that monitors language trends, a new word enters the English language every ninety-eight minutes. Each year, between eight hundred and a thousand neologisms (new words, meanings, usage or a phrase) are added to the English language.

In Elizabethan times, the common English vocabulary contained less than five hundred words. Then William Shakespeare came along and added about seventeen hundred words to the language, mostly by borrowing from foreign languages and wordsmithing.

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Today, according to a study by Google and Harvard University, well over a million words are contained in our language and the average American uses a vocabulary comprised of nearly eight thousand words.

Thanks to the Internet, just about anyone can wordsmith the English language today. Words are bent and shaped by journalists, bloggers, recording artists and the occasional street performer turned viral video sensation. As each new neologism enters the mainstream, it goes through an informal evaluation process carried out by peers as well as the general public. It is there that new words and phrases will either advance within the language or meet a rapid demise.

Many of the words entering the English language are not really words at all but are acronyms. “AWOL” is an example of an acronym. While the military and government agencies traditionally generated many of our acronyms, the Internet and especially social media, is now responsible for a flood of acronyms entering the English lexicon.

As a communication professional, my biggest concern for the tools of my trade are not the new words but the change in meaning that words inherit. Take the word “bad” for example. In the beginning “bad” simply meant “unfavorable”. But the word has since changed and can now actually mean, “highly favorable”. While the tone and inflection of one’s voice would distinguish whether the speaker meant the good “bad” meaning or the bad “bad” meaning, when writing a sentence such as, “That musician laid down one bad performance”, confusion by readers might be understandable. For this reason, writing today, especially writing to young audiences, requires consideration for not just what one has to say, but also how one wants to say it.

Purists may argue that writing should be honest and the words on paper should mirror the words from the street. But realistically, how good can your writing be if you leave half your readers wondering what it is your were trying to say?

These days, more companies, personalities and organizations are taking to social media to issue 140 character statements or underscore their expertise on one subject or another. While from a marketing perspective posting on social media is smart, it also presents risk. Writing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing can crumble careers and greatly harm businesses and organizations.

Our firm assists companies and organizations to establish social media policies for their employees. We also handle social media on behalf of executives, business leaders and personalities. Having a professional administer to your social media needs means you are not being diverted several times a day from your core responsibilities and you don’t risk a slip late at night when you tweet something that might just lead to a fall.

Looking to harness the power of social media without the risks? If so, then you should talk with one of our professionals.

We are Fanning Communications, and this is what we do.