A fascinating study has discovered the most popular words of last year – and demonstrated at the same time just how much language is evolving.
This particular research focused on English and saw the Global Language Monitor (GLM) analyse blogs, Twitter, Facebook and 250,000 global news outlets during the whole of 2014.
Its analysts drew up a list of the most commonly used to make a top ten ranking. In order to qualify, words had to be used at least 25,000 times worldwide, had to apply across different industries and must be present in several different forms of media.
Interestingly, it was discovered that the top word wasn't actually a word at all – it was the heart emoji, employed by tablet and smartphone users to convey a feeling of love and used by billions of people every day last year.
This marked the first time in the study's 15-year history that a symbol had made it to the top of the list. Last year though, the top word was actually a series of numbers – 404 to convey an internet error.
For 2014, the second place went to 'hashtag' and the third was taken by 'vape', a verb used to describe the process of consuming an electronic cigarette. Meanwhile, OK was the most understood word in the world.
Speaking to Business 2 Community, GLM president Paul JJ Payack said: "The English language is now undergoing a remarkable transformation unlike any in its 1,400-year history – its system of writing, the alphabet, is gaining characters at amazing rate."
We might assume that language isn't really evolving any longer, but this research proves it is and that new words or characters are entering our consciousness all the time.
In fact, it has been evolving since the very beginning, when some linguistics experts argue that Homo Sapiens between 30,000 and 100,000 years ago had to come up with a way of communicating more than one thing at once, such as the weather and the locality of prey.
Language continued evolving in the Middle Ages, when the texts we see in museums would have looked very different to those we use now – in Britain, for instance, the letter 's' used to be written like an 'f'.
Word meanings and importance alter too. Physicist Matjaz Perc recently analysed 5.2 million books published over 500 years and discovered that the most common three-word string in 1520 was 'of the Pope'. Today, it is 'one of the'.
Even since the Second World War, language evolution is a phenomenon that has continued, even though we might think we're on a much more even keel lately.
A prime example is the word 'literally', which until quite recently had just once definition: exactly and precisely true. Today, most dictionaries include another one though – to emphasise something that isn't true at all.
Another good one is 'quite'. Saying this in the 1950s would have meant 'absolutely' or 'correct', but it's now more commonly employed to mean 'a bit'.
Keeping up with language evolution
It can be tricky to keep pace with ever-changing languages; we've only discussed English here, but every one of them is evolving all the time to incorporate new additions and meanings.
Yet doing so is essential for anyone who needs to remain in communication with people in other countries if they are to avoid misunderstandings. We might all understand the meaning of a heart emoji, but real words aren't always so simple.
To illustrate what we mean, simply look again at the GLM 2014 list. Other entries in the top ten included blood moon (referring to a celestial event coming in 2015); nano (small or a billionth of a metre); and photo bomb (appearing in a picture unexpectedly).
All of these would need to be translated to be used in other languages, with the latter in particular presenting problems if it is wrongly interpreted to mean a weapon. It's also essential to ensure they're understood and widely used before employing them elsewhere.
Fortunately, you're not on your own when it comes to translation and localization. Here at EQHO, we've been providing these services to businesses for more than a decade to ensure flawless output for your company, whatever the project.
We will also remain abreast of language evolution thanks to our panels of native speakers – so you don't need to worry too much about which symbol or buzzword you should be using this year.
Posted by Our use of emojis is a great example of language evolution in action.