World O’ Words: The imminent end of the article

A weekly look at peculiarities and developments in the language

I don’t mean to keep going on and on about George Orwell, “1984” and Newspeak — that reduction of language to the bare minimum of words, the better to control the populace.

But I am emboldened to predict that by the year 2300, the English language will have gotten rid of articles; both the definite “the” and the indefinite “a.”

It’s a gamble to predict this. English is a language that has more words than any other, the better to slice itself into infinitely thin shades of meaning. [That’s why we have words like “grandiloquent” and “magniloquent,” two words that mean almost exactly the same thing, and yet oh so different. But I digress].

Some other languages don’t use articles at all. In a Slavic language like Polish, for instance, you would say “If I buy car, then I drive to city I really want to live in,” and the intuitive listener would understand by context whether you want to buy a particular car and drive to that one city you really love, or buy any old car and just get out of town, any destination will do.

Thus, Slavic languages are efficient and direct, and some consider them better than English for things like poetry and song — though it was a Polish fellow who told me that. He did not explain why, but I couldn’t argue with him, not being a Polish speaker. “To Prawda!”

Some languages, on the other hand, go absolutely nuts over articles. French, as we all know, has one set for the feminine, and one set for the masculine. German has a third set — for the neuter! [We will ignore these languages and the fact of their articles for the rest of this column].

In any case, since we’re seeing some of Orwell’s other “1984ish” predictions coming true in the world, maybe the whole Newspeak, stripping down the language thing is at hand, and we’re getting rid of articles (along with “grandiloquent” and “magniloquent.”)

And since texting is now, arguably, the most important communication medium in use, and who uses “the” or “a” in texting, I suggest that where texting leads, the language will follow. Remember — it’s the medium, not the message!

So I’ll say it again — I’m betting the article will be obsolete, if not extinct, in roughly 200 years. Just like 200 years in the past our use of the informal pronoun — the “thou art’s” and “thy’s” — was falling out of use. We don’t even refer to God anymore as Thou or Thy, except in the King James. And notice how I didn’t say “the” God, or “a” God.

See more on the use, or lack thereof, of the informal pronoun in a future column.

• Magniloquent, a dictionary definition: Speaking in or characterized by a high-flown, often bombastic style or manner. “My magniloquent boasts,” for example.

• Grandiloquent, a dictionary definition: Pompous or extravagant in language, style, or manner, especially in a way that is intended to impress. “My grandiloquent boasts,” for example.

The only times I have ever heard the word “grandiloquent” used is in reference to the theatre — specifically, “the grandiloquent old man of the theatre.” I have always taken it to mean “a respected, elder statesman of the theatre, with lots of achievements,” not some pompous blowhard. I have never heard anyone use “magniloquent.” But the sound of the word makes me imagine someone who uses words as a weapon — like Satan, maybe.

“I had the misfortune to get in an argument with that magniloquent bastard R——, who used his words to cut me apart, leaving me with a bad case of esprit d’escalier!” (Remember last week’s column?)

Next week in World O’ Words: This quarterback business …

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