The world of technology moves at a giddy pace, and it is fascinating to watch language struggle to keep up. Terminology is introduced, used widely, and summarily dropped. Product names become ubiquitous to the point that they become proprietary eponyms and then turn into verbs. We can now photoshop a picture, google a question, and PDF a document.
Technology has become extremely personal. We use programs and apps on devices that sit in our pockets or on our laps. This proximity has led us to expect more personal communication when we interact with our apps and has led to a change in the voice and tone used in writing online content. Where once texts on websites and in applications were official and stuffy, they are now informal and friendly. Go back ten years, and if something went wrong, you would expect your computer to tell you something like this:
Screen texts, especially error messages, were notoriously unhelpful. They used language that was too technical or avoided telling you how to fix the problem. But these days, our programs are more user friendly. They talk to us. When something goes wrong, they sit down next to us and help us work out how to get things up and running again.
And they don’t make us feel like it’s our fault that something went wrong. For example, Microsoft often uses empathy to help reassure the reader:
As editors, it is essential that we be aware of these changes so that we can interpret the rapid-fire changes in tech-speak and help steer authors away from language that is outdated. So how can we keep up with evolving terminology and language trends? There is a plethora of online sources that can help you.
Online dictionaries are a great way to check that a word really means what you think it means. Sites like Webopedia and Techopedia are updated regularly and Merriam-Webster Online and other “regular” dictionaries are also useful for looking up modern word usage. But make sure that you use authoritative sources and steer clear of word mills that are essentially advertising platforms and merely repeat what appears elsewhere online—right or wrong.
There are so many Facebook groups and Twitter accounts that deal with language and grammar that you could spend days reading about whether to use a capital P in “photoshop” when you’re using it as a verb. You can find local groups in your area or get an international perspective from groups such as the Editors’ Association of Earth. (Just be careful expressing an opinion about serial commas; people tend to get worked up about that subject.)
Blogs are also full of useful information. These days everyone is blogging, even dictionaries and style guides. Here are some of my favorites:
- Merriam-Webster’s Words at Play is a fun look at evolving language.
- The Chicago Manual of Style and APA both post regular blogs. The Chicago Manual of Style also has a fascinating monthly Q&A post where they list questions that people have asked them.
- Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl (also available as a podcast) provides entertaining tips about grammar and word usage.
- Grammarly, the online grammar and spellchecking tool, also has a blog, but I’ve found that recently it spends too much time posting cutesy quizzes and discussing issues related to work productivity. Have a look at their older posts for information about language and word usage.
We have to keep up with lingo and the ever-evolving character of online language if we want to be great editors. Over the course of a few short years, the word E-mail went from being written with a capital “E” to the lowercase hyphenated e-mail and to plain old ’email’. If you don’t believe me, just google it.