Aria Bendix is a frequent contributor to The Atlantic, and a former editorial fellow at CityLab. Her work has appeared on Bustle and The Harvard Crimson.
Words like “smitten” and “peruse” have re-entered our lexicon.
One of the beauties of language is that it’s constantly evolving. But our modern lexicon is a linguistic purist’s worst nightmare. We use acronyms and abbreviations in nearly every sentence, and our writing has been infiltrated by internet slang and text message speak.
This particular use of slang is no doubt the product of a technology culture that prizes speed and efficiency in addition to cute little emoji. But some retro words—products of an era when language was lengthier and more ornate—may be making a resurgence back into the mainstream.
According to a JSTOR Daily article from Chi Luu, a number of old-fashioned words are now resurfacing in our daily jargon. By tracking certain words using Google's Ngram viewer (a tool that charts how frequently a word has been used in printed sources), Luu found that terms like “bedchamber” and “fortnight”—whose usage has steadily declined since 1900—have become more popular in recent years.
Take, for instance, the words “thou,” “thee,” and “thine.” The Ngram chart below shows that these words have been trending upwards since about 2000. If you look closely, you can see that “thou” was about as popular in 2008 as it was in 1930.
The same goes for words like “smitten,” “bespoke,” “peruse,” and “dapper.”
And even some antiquated versions of words we use now, like “amongst,” “whilst,” and “amidst.”
While it’s unclear whether these words are being used ironically, it’s hard not to attribute their newfound popularity to a group of “nostalgia miners” eager to revisit the past. What this portends for the future of language is also uncertain, but I for one look forward to the day when words like “LOL” and “thou” are used freely in the same sentence: “LOL, thou art so funny.”