This month, students are heading back to school many recent high school graduates are off to college. At institutions across the country, deans are dutifully studying the Beloit College Mindset List to remind their faculty of the recent cultural experiences that have shaped the today’s youth—and to remind us of how much the world has changed.
While language is seldom part of the Mindset List, it too changes alongside cultural touchstones. Yesterday’s ironic novelty or fresh metaphor becomes today’s common usage and tomorrow’s cliché. The passage of time will settle many, but not all, of the grammatical disputes of our day. Those who worry about the language of others will give up on old peeves and find new things to try to police. And if you have any doubts that attitudes toward correctness evolve, just take a look the “Words and Phrase Commonly Misused” section of The Elements of Style over the years.
Since fall is also the season for prognostication—the 2016 election, the World Series, the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year, holiday sales figures—I want to offer some predictions about tomorrow’s English. What will the English language be like when today’s students begin to retire? Here is a baker’s dozen of not-quite scientific predictions for English in 2065, most of which are already underway.
- The word segue will have been replaced by the spelling Segway, as in “Now, let me Segway into a new topic.” It’s just too logical to not take hold.
- The word coupon will become like economics. No one will notice if you pronounce it COOP-on or CUE-pon.
- The compound mountain lion will continue to gain in popularity over the alternative cougar, which causes problems for headline writers and search engines because of its secondary meaning.
- Almost all one- and two syllable nouns will be used as verbs: to gift, to gym, to verb, to tweet, to car, to Facebook, to adult, to coffee, to effort, to action.
- The verb do will continue to blend with the verb have in expressions like “I’ll do the braised chicken wrap.”
- The adverb hella will be in widespread use across the country, except in New England, where wicked will be maintained, and among children under ten, who will say hecka.
- We will no longer be freaked out by—or even notice—uptalk or the pronunciation of nuclear as “nukular.” There will, however, still be efforts to stamp out the use of literally to mean figuratively, including a short-lived ironic use of “illiterally” at some point.
- English teachers will win the battle to suppress the use of off of to mean from (as in, I got it off of the internet). Instead, they will begin to turn their attentions to the expression blasé faire (for laissez faire) and to site being used for cite (a mistake that will arise because most citations will be from websites).
- The merger of vowels will continue with Dawn and Don, and Erin and Aaron, becoming homophones for most speakers.
- The verb to out will lose any association with sexual orientation and will simply mean to reveal something kept secret.
- The expression by accident will be replaced by on accident.
- Your guys’s will be the standard plural possessive, except in two places: the South, where y’all’s will predominate, and in fancy restaurants.
- Dude will be gender neutral.
Print this out and save it. Then check back with me in fifty years to see how close I came with these predictions. In the meantime, what do you think will change in the English of 2065?
Image Credit: “Into the Future” by Natalie Schmid. CC BY NC 2.0 via Flickr.