Language has evolved over the years, and the words we use today might have meant something else in the past. There are plenty of hilarious old fashioned words deeply buried in the pages of the dictionary. Ever heard of words like “skedaddle,” and “anon”? Probably not. According to research, the next words to go extinct might be hidden in plain use.
Related media: How Some Words Get Forgotten
Back in 2009, evolutionary language scientists (oh yes, that’s a thing) from the University of Reading sought to look at (you guessed it) the evolution of words to determine the next class of vocabulary most likely to go extinct. The researchers analyzed the family of Indo-European languages — comprising several languages spoken throughout Eurasia — to assess the rate at which words evolve in order to predict the extinction of most of our vocabulary.
“Fifty percent of the words we use today would be unrecognisable to our ancestors living 2,500 years ago,” Mark Pagel, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Reading, explained. “If a time-traveller came to us, and told us he wanted to go back to that period, we could arm him with the appropriate phrase book, and hopefully keep him out of trouble.”
Conversely, it’s only logical that plenty of even the most common words we use today will die out in the coming years.
Evolution Meets Extinction
So which words are at the point of extinction? Apparently, the scientists say is “dirty,” as a vocabulary.
“Based on our statistics, the next word to go under is the word ‘dirty,’ some time in the next 750 years. It has the most rapid rate of evolution of all of the words we studied,” Pagel told the Guardian, citing that he found 46 different words for dirty across the languages analyzed. “If we were to fast forward 750 years, we expect people will be using a new sound for the concept of dirty. They’ll point to a dirty floor and use a new sound to describe it.”
We Don’t Say Goodbye, We’re Extinct
According to the researchers, adjectives (like the word “dirty”) and adverbs evolve at a steady pace, and are susceptible to extinction and easily replaced over time. Conjunctions and prepositions are also words that evolve at a steady pace — such as “and,” “or,” “but,” “on,” “over,” and “against.” Nouns, especially numerals, are words with the most staying power, and hardly go extinct. After “dirty,” some other words the researchers deemed to go extinct include words like “throw,” “stick,” “gut,” and “squeeze.” Like what?
Pagel even believes that these words could be permanently displaced by new words within 1,000 years. Sounds like an existential crisis. The researchers achieved this prediction by applying the theory of evolution through natural selection (yes, the survivor of the fittest thing) to language and used IBM supercomputer ThomasBlue to analyze the data.
But come on, let’s get real: How will this sentence, “let’s stick around and squeeze the dirty guts,” sound to our great-great-great-great grandchildren in the distant future; or what will they do when Christina Aguilera’s timeless treasure “Dirrty” starts playing on the radio, we wonder. Let us know in the comments.
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Thu, Apr 11, 2019.