As soon as I posted my new photo as my profile picture on the Face book, strange comments started pouring in. (1) “Vow, it’s cool.” (2) “awesome !” (3) “ Vow, it’s just awesome!” (4) ‘great!” (5) “sexy”. While thanking my friends for all the compliments, I started wondering if I knew my English well. For old fashioned people like me, a photograph is ‘beautiful’, ‘nice’ or at best ‘wonderful’. But, the English language has changed, we have to learn it afresh. I use the word ‘cool’ to refer to the cool night air or when I get a ‘cool’ reception at my old friend’s place. But, now a days, ‘cool’ is a highly welcome expression. ‘That’s a cool car’, ( a very good, excellent car), ‘ My wife bought a cool purse’ ( a fashionable purse). Earlier, we were afraid of the ‘awesome’ power of the atom bomb, but now we are thrilled by an ‘awesome lecture’ or we gaze at an ‘awesome ‘ shopping mall (awesome=excellent). The word ‘sexy’ was a taboo word in the last century, but now it is a common word in the day to day parlance of the younger generation. “ Congrats, you have bought such a sexy new car!” “ I listened to her speech, but sorry to say it’s not very sexy” ( meaning, the speech was not very exciting or appealing). “ Great, it’s really a sexy project”. I knew that ‘ No way’ meant ‘under no circumstances or not at all’, for my young friends, it’s just an emphatic ‘no’, nothing more than that! Similarly, the word ‘great’ has also got a new meaning: “ We played awful, they played great.” ( great= very well, excellently).
‘Language without meaning is meaningless’ ( Roman Jakobson). But what do you do when you find that the meaning that you know is meaningless? While pondering over the meaning of meanings, I realized how English is fast changing. During the pre-internet period, we learnt English usage from F T Wood’s ‘Current English Usage’ published in 1963 and H W Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage published in 1926. But now we have to relearn English from the social media. When I was pointing out this transitional phase to a friend, he exclaimed,“ Come on man, everything’s gonna be aight!” (al right= aight).
English language has become more informal and more innovative during the post-Google period. The purists may dismiss the new coinages and the new connotations of words as aberrations or slangs, but they are the signs of the younger spirit of the language. “That’s really interesting”! Or should I say, “That’s cool!”