February 25, 2005

Language change after childhood

Until I was 21, I shared Geoff and Arnold's notion of what the word troop means. Then I got drafted, and learned different. This wasn't the most important thing that I learned in the army, but it was something that I learned early: in basic training, I was a recruit, but after that, I was a troop. It's been a long time since I even noticed uses of troop as a count noun meaning "soldier". My experience holds out hope for those who get upset about lexical innovations (or throwbacks). Though maybe there's not so much hope after all, if it takes a period of military discipline to get people to accept a new word usage after college. I can think of many new words I've learned, and new word senses as well, but it seems to be much harder to change your ideas about certain key properties of known word elements in known meanings. Perhaps the key thing is to accept membership in a culture where the new pattern is normal.

Posted by Mark Liberman at February 25, 2005 08:44 AM