A university study has found that words such as “usually” and “upon” are on the way out, whereas “amazing” and “stuff” are on the rise as we become increasingly informal in how we communicate with each other.
Lancaster University linguists found that certain words, such as the pronoun “whom” and verbs “shall”, “must”, and “may”, are falling out of fashion.
The internet and social media have changed the way we communicate with each other, and the words we use to do it, so it’s no surprise researchers recorded new terms such as “vlog”, “tbh”, “defo” and “tmoz” in the general lexicon.
Authors of formal research reports pen twice as many informal expressions such as “it’s” instead of “it is” today when compared to reports published two decades ago. We’re also less bothered about previously frowned upon linguistic features such as the split infinitive.
The Lancaster research team, led by Dr Vaclav Brezina, recently completed a seven-year-long research project in which they compiled a new dataset known as the written British National Corpus 2014, which covers the period between 2007 to 2020. The research compared this new dataset to the old one, BNC1994.
By looking at the corpus, or bank of words, researchers are able to get a glimpse into how British English has evolved over the last number of decades.
So what’s going out of fashion, and which words demonstrate how the language has evolved?
Words and phrases that have been used less and less over the last 20 years: Authority, Church, employment, may (as a modal), Mr, Mrs, must, nuclear, railway, shall, software, Soviet, telephone, unemployment, Unix, upon, usually, video-taped, which, and whom.
Words and phrases reflecting prominent language over the last 20 years: A bit, cos, five stars, focus group, game, global, internet, just, like, maybe, me, net, OK, online, website, phone, pretty, really, stuff, and amazing.
Pretty amazing stuff, really.
The British National Corpus 2014 now contains 100 million words of “real life” language spanning all kinds of genres such as newspaper lingo and social media slang.
“Over the last twenty years, we have experienced dramatic changes in technology, which completely transformed the way we communicate,” says Dr Brezina.
“Written language has become much more dynamic and shared by many more people than ever before.
“We text or message friends and colleagues and get an immediate response but we might be hard-pressed to remember when we last wrote a letter to someone.
“Many more people also produce content for the general audience via social media and various websites – one doesn’t need to be a journalist or a novelist like in the old days to reach thousands or millions of people.”