Lexical Change

“ we couldn’t listen to the latest tunes because we hadn’t a wireless

From the word wireless, we would probably assume this statement was made by an older person, as radio is now the more common term. Lexical change refers to a change in the meaning or use of a word, or a generational shift in preference for one word or phrase over another. Lexical change is probably the most frequent type of language change and certainly the easiest to observe. For instance, we can make confident assertions about the age of a speaker who uses the word courting to mean “going out with”, or one who uses the adjective fit to describe someone they find attractive.

New vocabulary or changes in fashionable usage spread rapidly and evenly across the country due to our sophisticated communication links. Intriguingly, in the case of wireless, the word has experienced something of a revival. If you hear the word wireless used by a younger speaker, they are almost certainly using it as an adjective rather than a noun and referring to wireless technology, from WAP phones to blackberries and laptops. This illustrates perfectly how words can virtually disappear or gradually shift in meaning and usage

Listen to these extracts of older speakers using vocabulary we might now consider a little outdated:

wireless:

you heard it on the wireless at the time, but you couldn’t never see it like you do on the television now

Listen To Audio
Commentary
OED entry:

wireless: short for wireless set (British usage); largely superseded by radio except in historical contexts. First cited 1927.

radio: set for receiving organised wireless broadcasting in sound (originally US usage). First cited 1913.

NB draft entry for OED 2001 — wireless application protocol: a specification for the transfer of data to and from a handheld wireless device, esp. a mobile phone; abbreviated WAP . First cited 1997.

Visit the Collect Britain site and listen to the following recordings for other examples of references to outdated domestic technology: Blackburn, Dean, Fleetwood, Colne, Malton, North Skelton, Boosbeck, Wold Newton, Appleton Roebuck, Fulstone, Lusby, Coningsby, Swadlincote, Tamworth, Langford, Bacton, Easton, Great Bradley, Epping, Pentney, Framilode, Winstone, Selworthy, Rosudgeon, Exeter, Langford and Forest Hill.

pictures

the, the entertainment there, of course, was the pictures or, uhm, a dance, which, the main dance was at The Pavilion

Listen To Audio
Commentary
OED entry
pictures:
the showing of a film in a cinema; always with the and in plural (British usage). First cited 1915.
cinema:
short for cinema hall; a building in which films are shown. First cited 1914.
movies:
the screening of motion pictures in a cinema; always with the and in plural (originally North American usage). First cited 1914.

Visit the Collect Britain site and listen to the following recordings for other examples of older speakers referring to the pictures: Stoke St Gregory, Fleetwood, Nelson, Liverpool, Dukinfield, Chapeltown, Stoke-on-Trent, Wirksworth, Birmingham, Kimbolton, Kingswinford, Bath, Camborne, Eynsham and Bermondsey.

parlour

and my mother and father slept down in a parlour downstairs

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Commentary
OED entry
parlour:
main family living room or room reserved for entertaining guests; sitting room; ‘best’ room. First cited 1448.
drawing room:
room reserved for the reception of company and to which ladies withdraw from the dining room after dinner. First cited 1642.
sitting room:
room used for sitting in. First cited 1771.
living room:
room set aside for ordinary social use. First cited 1825.
lounge:
the drawing room of a private house. First cited 1881.
front room:
a room situated at the front of a house, esp. a sitting-room kept as the ‘best’ room in the house. First cited 1922.

Listen to the recordings featured on this site in Stannington and Nottingham for other examples of archaic domestic terminology. Visit the Collect Britain site for further examples in the recordings from Gayles, Cheltenham and Selworthy.

courting

that was nineteen, the end of nineteen-sixty-nine, and, uh, we got married in seventy-one, so we were only really courting about, seriously I suppose twelve months, really

Listen To Audio
Commentary
OED entry
court:
to pay amorous attention to, to seek to gain the affections of, to woo (with a view to marriage); now only homely or poetic use. First cited 1580.
go out with:
no entry in OED.
date:
to make or have an arrangement to meet someone; specifically to do so in the context of romantic attachment (originally colloquial US usage). First cited 1902

Visit the Collect Britain site and listen to the following recordings for other examples of older speakers referring to courting: Stokesley, Spofforth, Penrith, Kingswinford and Exford.

See Also