Verbing Weirds Words

Verbing Weirds Language

A friend of mine shared a link to a Merriam-Webster usage note about how the definition of “literally” includes “figuratively”, and how outraged people are about it. Another friend shared an angry emoji on the topic — lots of outrage!

And friends, I understand the frustration. I, too, am a literalist by inclination. “Literally” means “literally”, how can you possibly interpret anything figurative there?

But I do accept it, because I like how smoothly our brains stretch to accept new meanings.

Did you know that the word “bead” came from “benediction”? Christians would “count their beads” when they said the rosary. All your jewelry comes down to a religious term.

And that “glamour” is a mutated version of “grammar”, because the written word was magical to some set of illiterate English-speakers hundreds of years ago.

How about that “awful” used to have the same meaning as “awesome”? (It seems obvious once you point it out.)

Here are some of my favorite new words:

“Wat”, which means “what” but in a particularly disgusted tone of voice.

“Because X”, as in “the power went out because PG&E”, which assumes you understand all the reasons why PG&E would cause power outages, and creates camaraderie. (For more on this, I highly recommend the book Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch, which is narrated by the author in the audio edition.)

While I’m at it, I recommend the podcast Lexicon Valley hosted by John McWhorter, as well as many of his lectures on the Great Courses and his books. He talks about all kinds of weird language quirks, including why sounds change, why grammar changes, and how Black English is an entirely consistent and regular dialect of English, and not just mistakes.

And by the way, “nice” started out meaning “foolish”, so if you insist on words staying exactly the same for all time, then I think you’re nice.