Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shifty Semantics

Usually, people don't question whether the words they know have changed in meaning or usage. This is a good thing, because it would be a tremendous deterrent otherwise -- spending an extraordinary amount of resources, daily verifying whether your vernacular is similar to the world vernacular. But sometimes a generation of individuals are raised with a certain set of words with a certain set of meanings, and are confronted with a different generation of individuals who use the old words in new ways. Thus, it was a great surprise to me when I chanced upon a different usage of the popular Latin phrase, carpe diem.

The traditional translation is "seize the day," with an attached meaning of "don't do tomorrow what you can't do today". Or more basically, "don't waste time". But it appears that the youth have seized this phrase, and turned it into something else: "enjoy the pleasures of now," in a sort of hedonistic philosophy.

While it's unsettling that a phrase that the literati have been using as a motto to get things done now, I suppose it's inevitable that the rambunctious youth would turn that phrase around and pervert it to their own silly pleasures. Then again, the phrase "social intercourse", as used by Jane Austen, would have trouble standing on its own today (unless explicitly contrasted by "sexual intercourse").

No argument for language purity here, just a mere observation on the curiosities of English.

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