The evolution of language

It’s not a secret that I love watching Hercule Poirot mysteries starring the one and only David Suchet. We’re watching between one and five episodes a week in the house and currently have about 15 episodes recorded on Sky Plus.

In addition to hearing Captain Hastings’ ‘I say’ or ‘good Lord’ or ‘that girl’s a corker’ it’s obvious that language has evolved since then. A recent episodes had two examples within the same conversation. Whilst discussing a male character the two women said ‘awfully nice’ and ‘frightfully attractive’ which nowadays would be more negative descriptions. I can’t think ever using the adjective ‘frightfully’ to describe something positive.

Tweeting about this sparked a conversation and Kyle told me about the paper he just handed in for university. “Are spelling, punctuation and grammar relevant anymore?”

His conclusion is that it still is more than relevant not only professionally, but also socially and that technology aids us with the help of spellcheck.

Back in 2006 I first blogged about language and my hate for txt spk. None of that has changed.

3 Comments

  1. Posted January 4, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    I have used the phrase “Terribly attractive” in the past to describe some of the handsome gents of our acquaintance.

    Language evolves, but it can still be beautiful but I admit, I have a yearning for more formal phrasing now and then…ya’know ;-)

  2. Posted January 4, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Ahh the joys of English.. “Terribly” and “awfully” meaning “very – possibly unhappily, possibly happily” or “frightfully” meaning “positively but with surprise”.

    It’s true you would rarely use these forms of speech unless you were trying to sound like a middle class 1930s Gentleman/Lady but they still pop up.

    Saying “I fancy an awfully good kebab” doesn’t really sound natural but “He was a terribly nice chap” isn’t as dated. I guess they come with an undercurrent of sarcasm most of the time, I would expect to be taken with a pinch of salt saying “That meal was terribly nice” but if I said my day had been “frightfully productive” I assume people would know I meant it genuinely.

    Being middle class seemingly used to be about self denial and put downs – I hope we’ve moved beyond such necessities so show respect to our audience!

  3. Posted January 5, 2012 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    Perhaps it is just me. When we were watching that episode of Poirot I pointed this out to my housemates – all native English speakers – who agreed with me.

    I have had similar replies to yours on Twitter so I am thinking it’s perhaps something about the English language I haven’t quite delved in as much yet.

    Thanks for the comments, guys!


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