Dying Words

While wandering around the internet and the SOU library database, I stumbled across an article reporting that words are falling out of use faster than new words are being coined. Now, on its own, I might just overlook this report (especially with Professor Battistella remedying the problem by creating a new word every day) if it weren’t for the reason given to explain this occurrence. What’s the cause you ask? Spell-check.

Now, this observation wasn’t made by someone with a little too much time on their hands. Some credibility can be give due to the fact that the study was conducted by a team at the Lucca Institute for Advanced Studies in Italy and they analyzed, according to the article, English, Spanish, and Hebrew with the help of the Google’s digital texts. As they moved through books from the nineteenth century to present day, here’s what they found—beyond finding the need to point the finger at spell-check:

The investigators found words began dying more often in the past 10 to 20 years than they had in all the time measured before. At the same time, they discovered languages were seeing fewer entirely new words emerging. They suggest that automatic spell-checkers may be partly responsible, killing misspelled or unusual counterparts of accepted words before they see print (Choi, par 7).

I’m not really one to talk because I honestly can barely spell opportunity without spell-check correcting me. I never really applied myself during elementary school spelling lessons. Sorry to my second through sixth grade teachers, but in my defense, it wasn’t because I assumed spell-check would catch it, as I justify it nowadays…it was because I just hated studying for spelling quizzes.

However, that being said, I’m not entirely sure I believe spell-check’s to blame. Yes, it corrects spelling, but if a word existed before the spell-check existed, it should be checkable—allegedly—since there would be something to reference. I believe it’s slowed the coinage of new words because people shy away from having the red squiggle under anything that might not be in the database of words spell-check knows.

It should at the very least be interesting to see if the discovered trend continues into the next decade.

Works Cited

Choi, Charles. “Digital spell-checking may be killing off words.” Science. MSNBC, 15 Mar. 2012. Web. 26 May 2012. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/46749036/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/digital-spell-checking-may-be-killing-words/#.T8D8KsWEFEN>

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels was released by Oxford University Press in March of 2020.
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