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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 07-Jul-28


Sunday 28-July-13

The formation of value words

My wife recently commented over coffee and magazines about new words that were appearing in an article she was reading about furniture. 'Mid-century' furniture apparently means 1960s kitsch and 'heritage pieces' are bits of junk you inherit from your parents and other departed relatives. These are splendid examples of how retailers and writers will invent or repurpose words in order to make something seem more amazing and valuable than perhaps it once was. (And I just used another recent introduction: 'repurpose' as meaning 're-use' in some kind of clever way).

Value, for many of us, is a perception which is often is based in social construction, where the views other people are important to us and where value increases with shared acceptance. Truth is what we agree is true. We hence work hard at spreading new words and new meanings for old words, and social writers such as journalists and bloggers have a critical role in this process of diffusion.

You don't have to be smart or qualified to invent new words. When people are struggling to describe something, they may well invent words even when other perfectly good words exist. This can be seen in TV shows where enthusiastic celebrities come up with bizarre terms. They may also repeat words that become associated with them and gradually spread out to become more commonly used., the Black Eyed Peas singer, producer and businessman has appeared on recent UK versions of 'The Voice' where he regularly uses 'dope' to mean 'good'. Despite its probably dodgy origins in praise of drugs, I have recently heard it increasingly used by young people as a generic superlative, much as previous generations used words like 'magic' and 'cool'.

English is a splendidly morphic language, which is probably why its fiction is so broad and why fantasy novels such as 'Harry Potter' have done so well. Friends from other countries have complained that, while it is easy to pick up basic English, it is nearly impossible for the non-native to become fully fluent. It must be tricky not only learning the language, but also picking up the new words.

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