Tennessee Mountain Stories

The Ever-Evolving English Language

Caleb with tablets.jpg

If you ask my Grandma if she’s got a tablet she will hand you a book of paper.  Recently I bought my son a spiral-bound book of notecards and when I asked him where he put it I asked about his “tablet”.  He pointed to the mobile computer device that contains several gigabytes of memory to store documents, photos, computer applications, etc.  Just that last sentence would cause Granny’s eyes to glaze over.

Now Appalachia’s unique vernacular is a recurring theme among The Stories and I’m always fascinated by how we came by certain terms.  However, I think this change has occurred across the country as both Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster lead with the paper definition of tablet.  My favorite etymology site says the word dates back to 1300.

So how did this common word take on a such a vastly different meaning?  Well those slim little computers do resemble a notepad, and we sure use them for all the sorts of things we used to jot down on a piece of paper – from this very article to a column of figures to a recipe or friendly letter.  And there are people who consider paper all but obsolete. 

Unfortunately our society has warped some words so that we tend not to use them in polite society, or blush whenever someone dares.  In a bible study a few years ago we were talking about how we often resist God’s call on our lives.  I quoted Acts 9:5 (“…it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”)and heard a collective gasp that I would use that indelicate, nearly profane term.  But I flipped open my Bible and it’s still right there reminding us that just like a mule or ox fighting against his master’s will, when we resist God we’ll get a little spur.  The NASV completely eliminates that portion of the sentence, possibly because the 1960’s era readers it was published for were becoming less and less familiar with the fine art of working stock.

Even Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:33, “…how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” have been so perverted that we must be careful how we teach our children to use them.  Of course, no one much wants to talk about Hell these days anyway, unless they’re using the word profanely.

Between my accent and dialect people are often either puzzled or entertained when I’m talking, so I wonder if I’m the only one.  Do you ever use words that are just as common as dirt in your way of thinking yet people around you can’t figure it out?