The Evolution of Language

Marsha Robertson here….making a transition from Account Director to freelancer at LCI.   Last week, I learned that “freelance” is a word that originated in medieval times. When warlords needed to expand their armies, they called upon “free lance warriors,” who would receive payment in gold or ground property.  Now if I could only talk David Landis into paying me in gold….


Like many PR professionals, I love words. So it was a treat to attend One Day University over the weekend and hear a terrific lecture by Stanford professor Seth Lerer.  His talk was called “Inventing English; Where our Words Come From” and it was easy to sit back and take a tour with Lerer as he guided us from unrecognizable Old English of the 6th century to Middle, Modern and American English, a rollercoaster ride that that has resulted in an idiomatic vocabulary shaped by war, sports, popular music, movies, advertising, science and technology.


In 1600, Shakespeare would have written “Good morrow sir! “

But it’s 2008 and all we make time for now is an email that reads “hlo” or “hey”.


As professor Leer pointed out, we’ve added mega-, mini-, -phobia and -gate to hundreds of words. We’ve made nouns into verbs, such as chair and table. We’ve forced mergers, e.g. web+log = blog and we live on a steady diet of chat acronyms, from SNAFU (look it up), which came out of WW II, to PEBCAK and BTDT.


Speaking here for myself and not the professor, it’s clear to me that we’ve butchered grammar, forgotten how to spell and dummied down our vocabularies over the past 50 years.   But if there’s one contribution we can be proud of, it’s geekspeak. 


From avatar to ‘zine and everything in between, we’ve managed to invent almost 5000 new terms that can now be found in an Internet dictionary.  Sure, English has been evolving over multiple centuries, but this period will be remembered for terms and phrases like click-through rate, cloudware and carpal tunnel syndrome.


It’s said that Shakespeare invented over 1700 words in the course of his lifetime. If he knew what we’d done with the English language, he would either RIHG or LOL.

And, you can still email me at:  [email protected]

*                       *                       *                       *                       *                       *


My buzzworthy recommendations: Food for thought and thoughts on food…. 


One Day University

“The best professors from the finest schools teaching their greatest courses”: Like returning to college without the bad dorm food, One Day U is a four-course gourmet meal for your mind.  It’s a great way to spend a day!


The TED lectures

If you haven’t heard about TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), it’s an annual invitation-only event where the world’s leading thinkers and doers gather to find inspiration. Each year, an eclectic line-up of speakers is invited to share their story in 18 minutes. If your invitation got lost in the mail, you can watch them all online.  Check it out at


Open Table: San Francisco Restaurants

Now in 50 states and 14 countries, I think everyone has heard about Open Table by now – as it’s a great website for making restaurant reservations online.   New “beta” feature in San Francisco only: Open Table Diner’s Choice, a service where users can share their own reviews. It’s bound to catch on in other markets.

OpenTable: San Francisco Restaurants


One thought on “The Evolution of Language

Comments are closed.