Originally Posted by Marcus
I am sure that fluidity is hotly debated among linguists. However, in this context, I was merely pointing out what language fluidity actually *is* and what it is *not*. It is *not* the insistence that a word mean something which it clearly doesn't.
Word meaning is interesting enough, but it is certainly true that plenty of people argue over any number of words. As far as I can tell, linguistics doesn't actually 'fix' strict meanings or usage. A linguist simply studies how language is or was used in both written and oral form in addition to figuring out meaning. That includes any change over time which could be 400 years ago or a few decades ago.
What we do know is that our words can and do mean something other than what it may generally be accepted as, e.g. "sick" can mean either vomit or something like "great" ----> "That's sick!". Of course, we can figure out which one is meant yet "of course" itself is another that might easily be held to be incorrect by a pedantic sort.
Linguistics does not deride slang. Not from what I've seen at any rate.
Conversation is much easier when people don't treat words as precious, in my opinion. If I get the impression that I am using a word or phrase incorrectly I look it up. If I can't figure out whether or not I'm using it correctly even when I'm looking at the definition then I will search for a synonym I *DO* know how to use and substitute that one instead!
Even though I may seem like it on these boards, I'm really not a semantics Nazi; it isn't an interest of mine. I prefer to keep language simple and efficient, so that I can be sure my intended message is being received. On a discussion board, however, it becomes very difficult to have a reasonable conversation when people refuse to use concise language (which is readily available, by the way)... so I push back about it.
I don't really check up to see whether I'm using a word correctly or not. I generally don't see or feel the need to. Whenever someone points it out, I will be able to point back at them THEIR actual ease in figuring out what I meant. That's the point of language and linguistics - usage is a kind of socially agreed contract if you like. Most of the time we don't think about meaning in a pedantic way, but in a more fluid way - I'd go so far as to say approximate way! I have used the same argument when it comes to pronouncing words. Most people who use standard English are able to figure out the approximate meaning of, say, a Scots form of it:
"Jings! My bucket's cauld!" ---> "God! My bucket's cold!"
"That's anither year near aw'." ----> "That's another year gone!"
To give another example, GalaGirl used the word "kvetch" when giving advice to me. I figured it's approximate meaning was "moan, groan, grumble" and looked it up after - as a verb "complain". That's another form of language fluidity.
But if we wish to get to the heart of the matter and see if we can insist a word means something OTHER than what is generally believed, these examples are good indicators it can be done. Meanings changed over centuries or even short decades.
"enthusiasm": "possession by a god, supernatural inspiration"-----> "passionate eagerness in any pursuit".
"very": "true" ----> general intensifier
"wacko": German for "pebble" ----> change rapidly took place in America in the mid-20th Century and by the 1970s to early 1980s morphed into "crazy, nuts, mad". Seeped into British usage with its American defined meaning as a result when it was still used to mean "pebble" or "large stone".
Interestingly, the surname "Wacko" was common in the United States until the now accepted meaning took over completely. You'd be lucky to find a Mr & Mrs Wacko these days, presumably.
"weird": "fated...14th Century "to preordain be degree of fate" ---> "creepy, odd, unusual".
"bully": "good fellow" term of endearment ---> intimidates the weak.
"nice": "foolish, silly"---> "pleasant"
The word "bad" itself is interesting enough from indicating a low standard in something all the way to the kind of proclamation found in Michael Jackson's 1987 hit "BAD" to mean "good, excellent". Especially his spoof called "badder".
Point is, I don't think there's any real need for anyone to get bent out of shape and completely fixed on what each word is believed to mean. Our social environment will encourage a particular meaning over another and that differs everywhere.
It's not a problem as long as you can figure out approximate meanings of what is being communicated to you. I gather the word meaning in contention was "interfere"?
"to strike against, to strike each other, to knock, to pierce" ----> "meddle with, oppose unrightfully."
One is from the 15th Century and the other is from a century later, I think.
But it is true that we do deal with what words mean NOW in our daily lives. It would not help to use a meaning from 400 years ago if it's not widely used today!
But we CAN decide to start influencing change by trying to use an alternative meaning and see if it takes hold. There is no authority that regulates or controls language usage though.
To quote a UK car rental company from sometime ago, "Change happenz..."