“If y’all ain’t fer’em, y’all agin’em!”

I believe that’s Shakepeare; perhaps Hamlet. Even then, the crafty use of contractions had lifted the masses from having to tire themselves out with long-winded blathering. Luckily for us, contractions have stood the test of time and we speakers of English have accepted them more so than the original words. Have you ever said the two words that make up a common contraction, in all their honesty, and then thought to yourself, “That sounded stupid.”.

Contractions are not a recent invention in the English language. There was no rise of contracting words in a single mash due to some foreboding of smartphones and texting. Rather, contractions has a history as long as language itself; passing through the Indo-European, the Germanic, the Celt, and the Roman. Contractions faced of the coming of Christianity and the Anglo-Saxon. Within the runic alphabet, we see evidence of contractions; many of which support our current fascination with the negative “not”.

Old English arose; got kicked around by the Vikings and then the Normans; resulting in Middle English. By the 1700’s, English had morphed through the influence of the romance languages and the Great Vowel Shift. It further refined itself within the heady atmosphere of the Renaissance, but it really wasn’t until the beginnings of mechanical printing via the printing press that the English language came together into a less evolving, more standardized system as we know it today. It, like all languages, is still much like an amoeba; bulging this way and that, consuming, expectorating, and leavings its debris behind (there were no one with little plastic bags to pick it up and dispose of it neatly).

Through it all, contractions remained; used as a convenience I image, and certainly as an expeditious way to get a thing done with. There’s a general conception – certainly amongst the intelligencia and the elite – that contractions are an invention of the crass, the poor, and the undereducated. To this day, contractions are discouraged when writing academic papers and political revelations, and the all-too-frequent rulings and laws. All that’s changing though, as it has become chic to not only contract most any pair of words or phrase, but to toss around the profanities (once the dullards of society) with disarming frequency and alacrity. I guess the intelligencia and elite are right; contractions may well be a mark of the crass. Hopefully there will be gentler times in our future. It would be a fascinating investigation; to map the flow and usage of profanities, contractions, and other verbal shortcuts to hyperactive, lowlife expressions.

Personally, I must love contractions; I use them enough. I don’t (!) even realize I am using them.


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