Fast and Furious

By Dianne Loyet



It’s hardly news to point out that the pace of life in the US is ramping up. Fast food, for example, has been becoming faster food for decades. Now sixty to seventy percent of fast food orders are fulfilled in the drive-thru, where the average wait time is six minutes and thirteen seconds. Even so, many people consider six minutes too long to wait; they order their carryout before going to a restaurant so that it’s ready at the very moment when they arrive.

The need for speed is evident in the media. Typical conversations occur at a rate of 140 words per minute, but 180 words per minute is considered the optimal speed for audio commercials. Youtuber Ben Shapiro may speak as fast as 500 words per minute, and if you think 500 words per minute is too slow, you can speed up Shapiro’s (or any Youtube) videos to twice their original speed.

This acceleration of daily life may be influencing American English grammatical trends that lessen the time necessary to communicate ideas. One example is the replacement of multi-word phrases or clauses with shorter expressions, a continuation of morphological changes which, over time, have led to loss of case, person, number, and gender markings. English morphology now allows many words to have virtually the same form regardless of their role in an utterance (verb or subject or object), but until recently it has been unconventional to use certain words that way. For example, the word ‘adult’ has not conventionally been used as a verb. Previously it was necessary to say or write a phrase such as ‘being an adult’ rather than using ‘adult’ as a verbform. Now however, one can say, “I’m tired of adulting!” rather than, “I’m tired of being an adult!” “Adulting” seems to be a fairly informal usage, but the phenomenon is evident in formal prose as well. Here is an example from a text about software: “They managed to patch the code before anyone discovered the exploit,” rather than “ . . .  before anyone discovered that that they could exploit the weakness.” In that sentence, the verb exploit is used as a noun. Here is an example of an adjective being shortened and used as a noun in advertisement for Sweeney Todd seats: “Best avails in June,” rather than “Best available seats in June.”

Another reduction occurring now is that some subordinate clauses beginning with “because” are being converted to prepositional phrases in which ‘because’ is followed by one object. For example, “Of course I accepted it because it was wine, and I never say no to wine,” has become “Of course I accepted it because–wine.”

Will the observed trends continue? The wonderful thing about language is that if you like these expressions, you use them, maybe they become popular, and the next stop is the Oxford English Dictionary. Remember, in the 1970s it was necessary to order “two cups of coffee,” but now you can order “two coffees.” On the other hand, people may not like these expressions. In that case, there will be fewer and fewer uses, and they will go the way of other linguistic dodo birds, like “zoinks” and “jinkies”.