Occasionally, the MSM sites put out funny little reports that some bizarre new word has made it into the dictionary as part of their offbeat commentaries on how the impact of the Tech Revolution is changing our language and thus, affecting the way we communicate organically as well as mechanically. Usually these hot new words are cribbed from the user-generated Urban Dictionary or Netspeak. For example, Time recently reported here that 'Zombie Bank' and 'BFF' made it into the most recent edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary. Of course, the OED and its variants are renowned as much for their historical etymologies as they are for scooping up the latest words from the wash of pop culture that not everyone even considers words yet. One portmanteau that I am starting to see, and wishing I wasn't, is 'underdig,' a dismal combination of 'to dig something' in a 60s' sense (as in, to 'really understand something') and 'to understand.' Aside from these newcomers, what I've found equally interesting is the resurgence of certain standard words which suddenly, thanks to technology, I hear everyone saying. I'd say this dynamic of particular words becoming popular is a sign of how the collective unconscious works.
Etymology of the word, 'hoden,' referring to a Kentish superstition about a mystic man-horse creature.
For those of you who don't get your kicks from reading the dictionary, I can assure you that the full volume edition of the OED does have its moments (the main homepage is here). Every entry has a full history of the word, starting with the first appearance of the word in the English language and its subsequent popular appearances and changes in meaning in later years. Similar efforts to standardize languages while tracing their histories have been made by the Dutch with the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal; the Grimm brothers, with the Deutsches Wörterbuch for German; the Italians Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca; the Spanish Diccionario de la lengua española; and the Kangxi dictionary compiled by the Chinese. To see a virtual example, see the Online Etymology Dictionary here.
Etymology of the word, 'treeware,' draft OED entry from 2006.
But then there's the question of how etymology works. Why do some words float to the surface and suddenly become popular these days? Sometimes over the past decade, I'd notice that I heard certain words a lot, out of the blue, like salient (2002); liminal (2006); trajectory (2009); and iconoclastic (2010). Then these words fade in popularity and are replaced by others.
Remember 1984's cult hit movie, Repo Man? It's made a comeback in popularity with 2010's film Repo Men. One of the most often quoted lines from Repo Man supposedly proved Carl Jung's theory of the collective unconscious: "A lot o' people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch o' unconnected incidents 'n things. They don't realize that there's this, like, lattice o' coincidence that lays on top o' everything. Give you an example; show you what I mean: suppose you're thinkin' about a plate o' shrimp. Suddenly somebody'll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate o' shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin' for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconciousness."
Miller's 'plate of shrimp' speech on cosmic unconscious and time travel. Repo Man (1984). Edge City/Universal Pictures.
If you don't want to bring Jung into this, these trends are likely a reflection of the internet's immense impact on our language, how we communicate, and the hidden dynamics of our social and psychological responses to these huge changes. Another trend is the transformation of nouns and adjectives into verbs - and widespread confusion between contractions and possessives (it's versus its).
Calvin and Hobbes © Bill Watterson.
Shortly before his death, Peter F. Drucker argued that the invention of the Internet and the whole Tech Revolution were as big as Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1440. And in case you think religion is all about faith, consider that it's also about how we communicate. The invention of the printing press enabled the widespread publication and reinterpretation of the Bible - which finally boiled up into the Thirty Years' War in the 17th century. It's no wonder that right when we revolutionize our methods of communicating, various religious faiths are enjoying equally revolutionary resurgences.