"Give them the gift of words"


Punctuation to Conjunction: A New Word For the English Language

Categories: ESL Vocabulary, News, Vocabulary Building Words, Vocabulary Research |

The way a language is used in real life eventually leads to how the language is recorded and described in dictionaries and grammar books. Like all other languages, English changes as the world of English speakers change, and new words come into being as others are forgotten. You’re much more likely to hear or see the word redonkulous today than you are the word ruricolous, for example. Pronunciation of words also changes, as well as the way the words are spelled (toune is now spelled town, and as the BBC noted a few years ago, “Not only is housewifery no longer pronounced huzzifry, it is almost entirely obsolete as a word.”) And the way the words are used changes over time as well; the word luxury originally meant “sinful self-indulgence, debauchery” and was not a complementary term at all!

While pronunciation, spelling, and usage are fairly common changes, what’s not common is the creation of a word from a symbol. Of course, letters themselves are symbols, but we’re referring to things like punctuation marks. A good example of this is the use of the word “period” to mean “full stop, that’s all, that’s how it’s going to be.” Instead of just using a “silent period” at the end of a normal sentence, you can articulate the mark to add emphasis, like this: “You can check out three books or two DVDs, period.” English professor Anne Curzan recently noticed the appearance of another vocalized punctuation mark: the slash (/).

It’s not unusual to see a slashed used in written form to make a connection between words or phrases that are separate but related, as in the common grouping of and/or. However, you don’t say “and slash or” because it’s understood that the slash is there (a “silent slash” if you will). What Curzan wrote about in The Chronicle of Higher Education is the increasing use of /slash as a word that is spoken out loud, or written out in a sentence as a word instead of a punctuation mark. You can read Curzan’s article here.

“Slash” isn’t really a new word for the English language, but this new use for the word is an interesting development in modern English. We’ll have to wait and see if the Oxford English Dictionary adds this new definition in the future, making it “officially” English slash not just slang any more.