Not-So-Subtle Changes in Language

It has been shown (and I can report anecdotal agreement) that children retain and work through certain information better with visual prompts to remind them of what they know until it becomes second nature to them.

Among the posters adorning the wall above the children’s computers is one outlining and defining the parts of speech. When I bought a new one this year to put up, it wasn’t long before our 10-year-old asked, “Mom, isn’t an animal a ‘thing’?” This caused me to look at the poster more closely because I had assumed that the definition of a noun was the same as it had always been:

A noun is a word which describes a person, place, thing, or idea.

However, I was mistaken:



It had totally escaped my notice that the definition of a noun had evolved to make clear that while animals haven’t quite yet been elevated to citizenship status, they hover somewhere between humanity and any other type of thing.

Now, to someone less cynical and conspiratorial of mind, this may read as much ado about nothing. Yes, I know Shakespeare’s meaning was different than my usage here, but deal with it.

However, as it was my common practice before we lost our beloved dog to gently correct well meaning veterinary workers who referred to me as his “parent”, subtle changes in language such as this tend to jump out at me particularly forcefully.

Just a random note taking of the current cultural landscape.

21 thoughts on “Not-So-Subtle Changes in Language

  1. Booky McBookerson says:

    Smart kid. But don’t forget all those women with “fur babies” – don’t want to offend them! Animals are people too! What about insects? Are they things or individuals? At this rate, parts of speech will be as complicated as common core math!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Robyn says:

    LOL … I definitely have furKIDS (they are helping fill in the gap between ending home education and grandkids) and I am, for sure, not offended. Also, if you pair information intake with an emotional event, the information becomes embedded in the memory making it impossible to forget.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Robyn says:

    “real babies” entitles me. “cats not brats” chicka … it’s probably better she doesn’t breed seeings how she’s advertising that she’s not a very capable woman. (ok, that was a bit testy … too bad)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Elspeth says:

    Yes, Hearth.

    We encountered some of that as well when our dog’s illness began to escalate and become especially costly. We drew the line at debt, and the veterinary nurses couldn’t understand why- after having gone so far- we weren’t wiling to go all the way with treatment that didn’t increase his chances of survival more than about 10%.

    Um…because we have actual KIDS that need to be fed, clothed and housed.

    They would have been utterly aghast at the way my dad’s generation dealt with a sick animal that clearly required more than rudimentary and basic vet care…


  5. Elspeth says:

    Bringing it back round to the OP: These little language shifts are such a part of the landscape that most of probably don’t even recognize them.

    It makes me want to read a bit more post modern fiction and more best selling (and Christian) non fiction as an exercise in how far these things have evolved.


  6. Robyn says:

    “Language shifts …” My comical pet peeve: voice mail. if you leave a message on a recording device it’s a called an answering machine, not “voice mail.” But, we must remain trendy, right?


  7. Elspeth says:

    Speaking further of language shifts, I have a funny story:

    We are reading the Brother Grimm’s original fairy tales. Sometimes I read them to the girls (8 and 10), and sometimes they go pick up the book and read a tale to themselves.

    Occasionally, because the writing is so far removed from post modern English, they have to read aloud because hearing the words helps them keep up with what is being said.

    10-year-old was reading The Town Musicians of Bremen, and the donkey is referred to by the traditional term of “ass”.

    She asked me about it and I told her what an ass is even showing it to her in the KJV Bible which was very reassuring to her.

    So she’s reading to herself -very softly- but just enough that 8-year-old could hear her whispering the words.

    8-year-old says, “Mom, could you make her change that to donkey? It’s kind of weird hearing her read it that way.

    For a brief second I considered it, but decided against it. I chose the original tales for a reason.

    Husband and I made sure however, she understood that this was the only context which the word is EVER to escape her mouth, LOL.

    How many of you would have had your kid clean up the original and say donkey?


  8. Robyn says:

    First off, kudos to you Els for not letting an 8-year old tell you (via her “mummy”) how to parent your own kid. The problem of heart is with the controlling 8-year old girl. Second, I don’t have a problem with the word ‘ass’ in reference to a donkey and not the buttocks, any more than I had a problem with any of my kids referring to a beaver “dam” instead of a beaver house.


  9. Elspeth says:

    Another language moment with the same kid:

    We went to the grocery store on a day when rain was threatening and the parking lot was particularly full. The only close space was the one marked “Parking for expectant mothers”.

    10YO says, “It says parking for expectant mothers, and I expect to be a mother, so just park right there!”

    Um, clever kid. But no…


  10. Booky McBookerson says:

    Ha! That’s great. Or how about, “I’m a mother, and I expect to go home with groceries, therefore, I’m an expectant mother!” See, this is the silly thing about euphemistic language.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Elspeth says:

    Yes, I like that too! It again illustrates the point, and quite well.

    Anyone mother who expects anything (such as to buy groceries), or any woman who expects to be a mother, fits the bill. But it would offend- whom exactly?- have the sign say, “Parking for pregnant mothers”.


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