The Deterioration of the English Language | Teen Ink

The Deterioration of the English Language

October 10, 2012
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“To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain for the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.” –Jane Austen, 1775-1817
“There is not hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.” –Ernest Hemingway, 1899-1961
“I take in a lot of stuff from real life, movies, television, news and it all gets mixed in my head and somehow turns into a story idea.” –Janet Evanovich, 1943-present

The above are quotes from three famous authors from various time periods. The first, written by romance writer Jane Austen, demonstrates the typical flowery language of the Regency and Victorian eras. The second quote, an observation of writer and journalist Ernest Hemingway, reveals a slight change in language from the 19th century to the 20th. For example, he used the word “liked,” which may in Austen’s time period have been considered a stronger, cruder word than in Hemingway's. The last quote, from mystery writer Janet Evanovich, shows the complete change in language style from the aforementioned centuries up to the 21st. A prime example of this: the word “stuff.”

The three quotes, in chronological order, were meant to show how the English language has deteriorated over time. Words like “acquisition” that were used in casual conversation in Jane Austen’s time, words like “thereafter” that are only used in laws and public statements today, have been replaced by words like “stuff” and “ain’t.” “Stuff,” possibly the most ambiguous word in modern language, doesn’t have a definition more specific than “things,” and “ain’t,” the one contraction which seems to singularly defy all laws of the English language, are apparently two words that make English in the 21st century unique. Cheers, then, to being unique.

One factor that has helped the English language wither away so quickly is instant messaging. Words misspelled or abbreviated to save time has caused a dramatic decline in the vocabulary and spelling skills of Generation Y. This includes neglecting to capitalize or use proper punctuation, but also leads to the abbreviation and tragic misspelling of everyday words. According to, one example of commonly mixed-up words is “it’s” and “its.” It is highly doubtful that this could have happened in either Austen’s or Hemingway’s times.

If people in the 21st century want to continue evolving the English language to become something that may eventually sound like the way thieves spoke in the 1800’s, then everything English has ever stood for will be forgotten as time passes. Specific words like “acquisition” and “thereafter” will fade away into nothingness as English evolves into a melee of words that had completely different meanings only fifty years ago. “Stuff” used to be a verb that meant to pack something. “Cool” used to be a describer of temperature or disposition. “Awesome” used to depict something grand that struck wonder in the beholder. Evidently, our language will quickly come to the point of disregarding what were once its own guidelines for grammar and punctuation.

Change is not necessarily a bad thing. It is obvious that the English language has evolved and will continue to evolve. But it is up to us to ensure that English is moving in the right direction, evolving in the right ways. A future in which there were only two or three different adjectives used to describe anything is not a desirable one.

That doesn’t mean that people should stop texting or abbreviating words; it simply means that these connotations of the English language shouldn’t affect the way it is generally spoken or written. For example, though the acronym "LOL" is commonly used in e-mails and text messages, the usage of "LOL" in conversation is ludicrous.

Yes, English has changed, and yes, it will continue to change. It’s up to the rising generation, however, to decide which path of change the language will take, so to speak. The word “deterioration” is a wonderfully long, sophisticated word. Its definition is true to what may very well be the future of the world’s common language; its definition is frightening. It would be lovely if the word “deterioration,” along with “acquisition” and “thereafter” and “future” remained in the English language.

The author's comments:
I wrote this article because I was reading a novel published in the early 1800's. It suddenly occurred to me how much English has changed since then. Shortening, abbreviating, and usage of acronyms is such a big part of the way we speak/write today. Then, I started to wonder whether these changes were good or bad...

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