Posted January 21, 2016on:
I can almost hear a collective groan from some English teachers when a new word of the year (WOTY) is unveiled. Depending on where and when you look, the WOTY might be emoticon, YOLO, bae, vape, or selfie.
It is not just the young who are reinventing language. In Singapore, I have noticed service aunties and uncles at fast food joints creating one-word questions like: Member? Upsize? Chilli?
Some time ago, I stood behind a Caucasian patron, who on ordering his meal, was asked, “Member?” He responded, “I beg your pardon!”
The auntie meant, “Are you a member of this restaurant?” and “Could you please show me your membership card?” Member was a severe truncation of all that.
However, our word-smithing efficiency was not received the same way. “Member” is another word for “private parts” in other parts of the world. It would be a very unusual eatery to require that you present your genitalia when you order food.
Now “upsize” and “chilli” refer to whether you would like a larger side order and drink (and if so, what size) and what condiment packets (and how many) you prefer.
You have to be a local enough to learn such word-smithing. But do you have to accept or even use it? Some segments seem to think so.
I wish I had taken a photo of the sign along an expressway upgrading works that declared it was being “upsized”. That stretch of road now has more lanes. Those lanes eventually narrow to the same limited number of lanes elsewhere because the rest of the road system cannot accommodate it.
Outside local use, member, upsize, and chilli are not universally understood. This is fine if you choose to communicate only your own household. It is not if you wish to make the world your oyster.
Beyond language use and evolution, the lazy use and adoption of language is indicative of mindset. On one hand, it asks the question, “Are you willing and able to change?” On the other, it begs the question “Are you critical enough to prevent good values from slipping?”