One Nation, Divided By A Common Language
This 24-hour moral gym can be exhausting. A cry of pain can be heard at all hours: “I didn’t say that! I didn’t mean that! I’m a good person!”
They don’t even make fucking adults anymore. These little privileged shits. Everybody’s a fucking pussy. You can’t say shit to anybody. You can’t even be a fucking human being anymore. You know what I’m saying? How are you supposed to be a human being?–Billy McBride (Billy Bob Thornton) in Goliath
In the last five years, the American language has exploded at an almost unclockable pace. Polyglot social media, news uses of streaming and social audio, and—most recently—the uncanny hallucinations of ChatGPT have exposed American English, with its historically promiscuous embrace of new idioms, to more digital pidgins, foreign words, microdialects, pictograms, neologisms, and cryptic symbols than anyone should be expected to brook.
And yet if you so much as glance at Threads OR Facebook you pick this stuff up. Up until pretty recently, “groyper,” “Dark Brandon,” "incel," and “AI hallucinations” (!) would have read as nonsense to all of us. Now they are the building blocks of public-square discourse—and flashpoints for antagonisms on- and offline.
When a language is radically disrupted at every level, from spelling to grammar to semantics, it can feel hard to just be a human being anymore, as words we use to convey insight, wit, and charisma ("rizz") become archaic, inaccurate, offensive, curdled, or actionable. A number of now-obsolete terms that just a few years ago were considered cutting edge have already been rendered passé: "red-pilled," "woke," and even "basic" (as one young linguist put it, “it’s basic to say basic now”). Compare this rapid-fire evolution to the prominence of the word “groovy,” which remained popular for the whole of the ’60s and ’70s.
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