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The Word 'Girl' Sure Has Changed A Lot | Grammar Underground with June Casagrande
The Word 'Girl' Sure Has Changed A Lot

 

Next time you hear someone ranting about how the language is going to hell in a handbasket or complaining about people misusing this or that word, ask him to define the word "girl."

In my experience, "girl" is the best example of why the language Chicken Littles don't have a leg to stand on.

You see, we actually use the word "girl" wrong, according to an older standard, that is. In the 1300s, "girl" meant a child of either sex. Yet today it means only a female child, and we use it to deliberately exclude males.

Think for a moment what it was like getting from that linguistic Point A to our Point B. There must have been a lot of confusion along the way, right? No doubt it gave language doomsayers plenty of fodder. Could you blame any witness to this transition for thinking it was a problem Could you blame him for decrying the ignorance that fueled this change or the chaos that would ensue?

With 700 years' perspective, we know that such doomsayers would have been wrong. The word "girl" as we use it today is perfectly peachy. People aren't confused by it. No one sounds ignorant for using it. Communication hasn't broken down.

In other words, what was once a wrong usage of "girl" is now right. And clearly that's not a bad thing.

When sticklers fuss over "misuse" of words like "literally" and "healthy" and "aggravate," it's because they just don't understand how words change. They don't understand that this evolution is not a bad thing. It just appears bad to anyone who lacks historical perspective.

And nothing proves this as well as a brief history of the word "girl."

 

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One Response to “The Word 'Girl' Sure Has Changed A Lot”

  1. I hate today's misuse of the word girl -- when people mean woman. It feels so belittling. "The girls" at work, "girls' night out", it's like it's not okay to be an adult female. I don't like "ladies' night out" either, but at least it means we're adults.