In my last post, I threw out a question that concerned creating new words for the many forms of coffee. Well today I’ve thought better of that.
A car dealership commercial on the radio got me thinking about how creating new words is very, very tricky. The over-volumed voice was proclaiming a wide selection of “pre-owned” cars. Somewhere, a few years ago, in a marketing galaxy far, far away, some non-English speaking, yet fast-talking salesperson decided “used car” had a derogatory connotation. In an effort to increase sales, s/he came up with “pre-owed” to supplant “used.” Speedy Lips sold the boss on the idea and the commercials began, signs were changed, investments were made, and now there is no going back.
Those who understand the roots of languages, including English, know that the prefix “pre” means “before, prior to” as in prefix: something attached to the beginning of a word to change or enhance its meaning. Little did our mental midget of marketing know that s/he had just created a word that really means “new car.” If something is pre-owned, it has never been owned; it is new. A pre-owned car is a new car by definition of the prefix “pre.”
Now that the car dealerships have co-opted the word for their own designs, we as unwitting consumers have accepted their definition of “previously owned.” Here lies my conflict.
Should language be a democratic exercise? Is natural evolution really the best way for a language to grow? It gives English an amazing ability to adapt to the changing world while simultaneously making English the most difficult language on the planet to learn and/or master. I’m certainly not advocating what the French have. Them and their silly Societé with their pens out, running about, giving an official stamp of approval to every new word behavior. I call your language police a silly thing.
But there is something to be said for the simple clicks and whistles of a bushman in the remote wilds of Africa. It all comes down to communication. I don’t care what language you speak or which alphabet you use, on some level we can all communicate. As long as you get your idea across, does it really matter? Playing word games can make your message more or less ambiguous, but is it really just the thought that counts?