How does language become legitimised?

maxiogee

Banned
imithe
Prompted by, but not dwelling on, the phrase used by Mr Imus recently when referring to a women's sports team I was struck by how language which was once denigratory can become mainstream and free of its associated aspersive meanings.

A prime example is the UK's Conservative Party.
They would have none among their number who would object to being called a Tory. (A word our American and Canadian forer@s will be aware of also).
But that word comes from the Irish language and when it made its way into English it meant an outlaw who preyed upon English settlers (coming from the Irish tóir = pursuit).
Now that's just one example — picked so as to avoid using anything which might drag us into contentious waters — but I'm sure we could all think of words which are now in everyday use in ways which would have alarmed our parents/grandparents etc.

So, what I'm wondering is - is there a tipping point at which abusive words get 'turned' by some form of public consent?
Or, and this is my pet theory, do some words get so misused by people who don't know their true meanings that they take on a new persona and drive out the old meaning?

Do languages such as French, with its prescriptive/proscriptive Académie, have such mutating words?
 
  • . 1

    Banned
    Australian Australia
    Australian culture seems to seek context.
    We are very blunt with our choice of language.
    You old bastard can be invitation to come around to my home to share a sup and a sip or it could rapidly result in bent noses and bruised knuckles.
    Every imaginable insult or swear word has very positive tones depending on context.
    :warn: Cunt:warn: is the strongest word we have down here but it is used positively as often as negatively. Used by itself it can be a strong insult or a compliment. During a game of darts in a pub a bloke would be quite within his rights to call me a :warn: cunt:warn: if I threw tripple 20 tripple 20 double 20 to win and I would be quite chuffed about his backhanded compliment.
    Every other word is the same.
    I can happily refer to my wife as a wog as could anybody as long as they were smiling at the time.

    I am not sure if there are many words that have completely lost their former sting under all contexts or situations.

    .,,
     

    xrayspex

    Senior Member
    USA English (southern)
    Or, and this is my pet theory, do some words get so misused by people who don't know their true meanings that they take on a new persona and drive out the old meaning?


    That, plus simple desensitization, seems pretty likely. Look at the gansta language that the "kids" use today (particularly in the U.S.) They know the words, but they don't understand the full meaning.


    Do languages such as French, with its prescriptive/proscriptive Académie, have such mutating words?

    I do admire the French for being particular about their language. Unfortunately, I don't see how a committee can really do all that much, even if they control the print dictionaries in this age of the wiki.
     

    french4beth

    Senior Member
    US-English
    So, what I'm wondering is - is there a tipping point at which abusive words get 'turned' by some form of public consent? yes, and the reverse also happens - for example the word :warn: Negro was commonly used in the US to describe black Americans, and was not derogatory; the same with the word :warn: colored, both of which you will occasionally hear in old movies (and now some politically correct dweebs want to have banned from certain books, or even worse, have the books containing these words banned from the libraries)
    Or, and this is my pet theory, do some words get so misused by people who don't know their true meanings that they take on a new persona and drive out the old meaning? I believe it's six of one, 1/2 dozen of another; i.e., in the US, the term scumbag is freely used, but actually refers to a used condom (ewww!):eek:
     

    Venezuelan_sweetie

    Senior Member
    Venezuela --> Spanish -or something alik
    ... do some words get so misused by people who don't know their true meanings that they take on a new persona and drive out the old meaning?

    Do languages such as French, with its prescriptive/proscriptive Académie, have such mutating words?
    Yes! It sounds like you were just describing 'Venezuelan Spanish'. There are many words that have drifted appart from their original meaning, and are now floating on a sea of misused vocabulary. We have the RAE (Real Academia Española) to 'regulate' the language, but that doesn't stop people from using it the wrong way.

    I assume I should give an example, so let's give a really crazy one: we have this word, chamo. In our slang, that's like guy, dude, folk, or something like that. But few people know what it really means: coroto viejo. Again, coroto means "thing" here (not slang), but its real meaning is tapara. But wait, tapara is not only a kitchen utensil (a type of container), it's the original name of a fruit that grows in a tree of the same name! (Our ancestors used that fruit's empty shell as a utensil) So, when youngsters say "¡Qué pasó, chamo!" (What's up, man!), they're actually saying "What's up, you old dried fruit of the tapara tree!". Crazy, isn't it? :p

    There are other (serious) examples, but thank God in heaven it's almost lunch time, so... maybe next time.

    Have a nice day, everyone!
     

    Amityville

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Whilst waiting for a French person to answer authoritatively I'll say how I (tentatively) see it.
    Yes, words can and have and do evolve in French, but less so since English has been perceived as a threat. See the thread about International Francophonie Day which celebrated migrant words.(here). Bashi-bazouk, abricot, amour...
    The nearest I can get to your 'Tory', is 'républicain' which for a period of about fifty years, maybe more, equated to 'alternative far leftie'. Now it's hyper-acceptable, everyone's a républicain. On reflection, maybe that's due more to history, movement of movements and ideas, than linguistic evolution....
    ..,'s example of a word which graduated from designating a part of the body to being a gross insult to being a jokey term of endearment (in some circles, it remains a shock-word in others) has a parallel in French and very likely elsewhere but I'm not sure that's what you meant.
    Speakers of words are at liberty to use them creatively and that's what poetry is, that's what they're for, but in France there is more of a danger of being considered an uneducated language-lout. It seems to me (and I'm only a guest not a native) that you have to be more careful of your audience, make more effort to show that your 'creative' use of the language is deliberate, and not simply due to crass ignorance of the rules - whereas in English anything goes - unusual usage is generally given the benefit of the doubt - you could be a poet from a foreign English-speaking country, who knows.

    Prescriptive bodies, such as the Académie would not be respected in the English-speaking world, they would be see as anti-democratic but it seems that, though criticised and sometimes ridiculed, they have the people's mandate, and they have been quoted on the forum as if to settle an argument. Another quote (not to settle an argument).

    "The dullards in the Academy have shifted about for some kind of explanation (not that any of them actually understand the problem in these terms). One that"s punted around in a vague sort of way is to suppose that the evolution of today's Romance languages was by no means random or chaotic. It was guided. This kind of thing does occur in a modest kind of way; for example, the Academie Française itself tries to ensure that Modern French travels along a particular route rather than the way most modern languages move when left to their own devices, which is by the wholesale incorporation of English words and usages."
    From "This History of Britain Revealed" Michael John Harper quoted by Bakst in this thread

    Not a Frenchman's view and a bit dismissive but refers to a guiding light of the Academy - protection of French from English infiltration. All the same, many English words are coming in, unendorsed by the Académie, and not just technological ones - commercial, cinematographic, and words like 'look', 'cool', 'deal', 'business', 'bluff'. All, as far as I see have gained a French nuance, they don't mean quite the same as the English means but awaiting the test of time. Still evolving a little, and making the most of what is already there.


    Dwindling to a feeble non-conclusion.

    Lovely to see you back, maxiogee, with another good idea for a thread ;)
     

    Frank06

    Senior Member
    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    Hi,
    I don't understand two things in your mail:
    (1) What exactly do you mean by legitimised. It's the first time I hear about this in connection with language and I don't know how (strictly or literaly I have to interpret it, certainly in connection with your mentioning of the French Academy.
    (2) The French Academy... Does this imply that the AF legitimises the French language?
    BTW, as an occasional viewer of French TV channels, I keep wondering why its influence is so overrated.

    Groetjes,

    Frank
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Speakers of words are at liberty to use them creatively and that's what poetry is, that's what they're for, but in France there is more of a danger of being considered an uneducated language-lout. It seems to me (and I'm only a guest not a native) that you have to be more careful of your audience, make more effort to show that your 'creative' use of the language is deliberate, and not simply due to crass ignorance of the rules - whereas in English anything goes - unusual usage is generally given the benefit of the doubt - you could be a poet from a foreign English-speaking country, who knows.
    In English, creative inventions come from within English itself more often than not. You would have a very different attitude to loanwords if you were borrowing intensely from another language. It's very easy for English speakers to laugh at the hopeless protectionism of other languages and their silly language regulation bodies. You don't have to deal with that problem.

    Incidentally, I find an English-speaking author praising "the way most modern languages move when left to their own devices, which is by the wholesale incorporation of English words and usages" at least a little self-serving. Don't you? How convenient for him, that foreign languages should incorporate English into themselves "wholesale". Then one fine day he might not have to bother to even learn them.
     
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