On the evolution of language

I’m always intrigued by grammar sticklers, spelling pedants, and language grumps. Anyone that get’s really angry when someone uses language in a way that they deem to be the wrong way.

You can see it most when the OED or similar is updated with new words, or then when the word of the year is announced, and it invariably rubs some people up the wrong way, especially in 2015 when it was 😂. Yes, 😂 was ‘the word’ of the year.

I think it tickles me partly because of how I struggled with language at school (so seeing it change takes away the infallibility from the rules that tripped me), but also in particular because of the word dimpsy. Yes, it’s a word.

Dimpsy is a word that I grew up with in Devon. It means that moment before dusk. The time when it’s starting to get less light. Not when it’s getting dark, nor when it is dusk, but when it’s about to get twilight-y. When it’s getting dimmer, or as my Dad would say when, “utt’s geddin dimpsy.”

I used this word through primary and secondary school, then through A levels, and I think though my degree, but when I got to London in my early 20s, someone questioned what I was saying and explained that it was not a word. The same has since happened with ‘smitching’ (when metal get’s really hot and starts to make a smell) and ‘where to’ and ‘where’s it at’ for asking where something is, or was. Anyway, the recent The death of dialect? Don’t believe a word of it Guardian article (scroll to the pink ‘Dialect words reported across the UK’ box and select South West England) included Dimpsy and made me feel a lot better. I mean, what can be more conclusive than an article in The Grauniad!

Also sobering, when feeling frustration about the change of language is this How far back in time could you go and still understand English? YouTube video. For a live version, just visit modern day rural areas of the UK, or the Survey of English Dialects section of the British Library website (this one from Widecombe in the Moor is near where I grew up, though not in 1963).

And to conclude – though this was intended more as a list of links than a post with a start, middle and tidy closing conclusion – I recommend that everyone listens to theallusionist.org. It’s an etymological investigation podcast, on a par of importance I think with the British Library recordings and even The Listening Project. Brilliantly funny and entertaining records of the evolution of language and understanding. Not 😂 funny. But 🙂 and at times 😯 and 😉.