Saturday, July 8, 2000

June 24, 2000
The law and Latin
June 10, 2000
Vague words
May 27, 2000
Words from war
May 13, 2000

Language growth

WHILE one is engrossed in tracing the roots of words, the process of the creation of new words is ongoing. It is in the area of vocabulary that language change is most obvious. That our language should change even as we speak it, is simply inevitable. We control our civilisation through language; and if the civilisation develops, advances, grows more complex then language must change to keep pace with it. Try managing a cyber-age civilisation with no word for a thing called the computer! Generally, however, except in certain areas such as scientific terminology, language alters so slowly that the changes are not perceived by the user. New words simply creep in just like new concepts do.

Till a few years ago, a mall was the main road or a promenade. The advent of the supermarket brought a new sense to the word mall. In the 1980s, with the increased traffic congestion and parking problems in large towns, as well as the megastore approach to shopping, the shopping mall came into existence. A covered shopping precinct, provided with car-parking and other facilities, it came to be called, simply, a mall. This gave birth to the magalog which is a marketing publication issued periodically, combining the features of the glossy magazine with the characteristics of a mail-order catalogue.

The humble make-up has given way to the more sophisticated makeover. The latest Miss Universe, too, went through one. A makeover is a complete transformation; specifically, the remodeling of a person’s appearance when it is carried out by a professional. The word caught the fancy of the business world too. When a company is restructured by a new management, it is described as a makeover or corporate makeover.

  When our ancestors worked on land and produced crops, all farming was managed without artificial pesticides and fertilisers. The land could feed everyone so there was little need to do research in chemical-aided agriculture. With increased population came the demand for more crops, artificially-stimulated. When a chemical saturation point was reached, a new word was born: organic; organically-produced foodstuffs, those produced without the help of any chemicals.

Those who insist that we are all sitting on a time-bomb, ecologically speaking, have something more to contend with: the logic bomb. The logic bomb is a set of instructions surreptitiously included in a computer programme. In it if a particular set of conditions ever occurs, the instructions put into operation usually bring disastrous results. It is used as a way of destroying evidence of a computer fraud as soon as information which might lead to the culprits is accessed.


Hindi words change in meaning with the changing conditions in the social order of people. The transference of the word pandit, a learned man, to a learned Brahman, and then to any Brahman, was necessitated by actual social conditions. For, when the vast number of learned people were Brahmans, the reference to a learned man as Brahman was a psychological attitude. The transference of the word to designate a law-officer under the East India Company was also due to similar circumstances. Progress made in the material conditions of existence is mirrored in the word patra which originally meant a leaf. It came to be applied to a letter for which a leaf was generally used.With the advent of paper and the book, its sense changed accordingly and today it is used for a newspaper!

— Deepti