The Language Gap

The other day I was sitting in the terminal of the Southwest Florida International Airport. Next to me was my cousin; he was playing a game on his Playstation Portable (PSP). I casually asked him what game he was playing.

“Star Wars Battlefront II,” he told me.

He started explaining to me how the game works. Basically, it consists of conquering planets by killing everyone on them, and buying people to add to one’s own army, in order to conquer more planets. I laughed at how basic and absurd the concept was, marveling briefly at the continued theme of manifest destiny, and how it had nothing to do with Star Wars whatsoever.

“Well, there are Jedis in it, too,” he assured me.

I went back to whatever I was doing prior, which most likely had something to do with zoning out, when he laughed.

“I’m really pwning [sic],” he says.

I asked him twice to repeat himself, before I realized he was not saying anything that had to do with “ponies.”

“Pwn” comes from the online language called “Hax0r,” a language developed from countless young Americans playing Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs), desperately trying to get a particular point across in as little time and as few keystrokes as possible. The word “pwn” developed from the continuous misspelling of the word “own.” To “own” someone is to defeat them, to beat them, or to generally dominate them. The letter “p” is right next to ‘o,” and when engaged in constant warfare, there is no time to go back and correct a small error.

I have used “pwn” vocally before, but I have always used it ironically or sarcastically. More often than not it has been accompanied by a vocal adjustment, frequently to be a terrible impression of Eric Cartman from South Park. So, it wasn’t the word being used that confused me. Rather, it was the context of the word: it was being used seriously.

This word was a part of my cousin’s active vocabulary, a word whose origination and validity are as assumed and accepted to him as random bag searches. It hasn’t occurred to him that it isn’t actually a word at all. And he is not all that much younger than me. It occurred to me, at that moment, that language is evolving extremely rapidly to keep up with the snowballing of technological advancement. I may still be computer literate and savvy, but my lack of toleration for spelling errors and absurd colloquial speech sets me apart from the younger generation coming up now. And even as I say that, I have to suggest that the word “generation” is coming to represent a shorter length of time.

While I felt no sense of panic, this experience was the first rap on my “you’re getting older” door, and it felt funny. I am just shy of twenty-three years old. There was a time when I would be considered an elder, and death would have been just around the corner, but now to even suggest that I might want to start getting my affairs in order is either hilarious or morbid. At the same time, it seems that the rate of antiquity and obsolescence is rapidly increasing. There is much talk and speculation about taking a significant leap, be it evolutionary or technological, in the very near future. While this moment at the airport was simply a moment standing out amongst many plain ones, it certainly piqued my interest: are we approaching a tipping point? Will I be left in the dust?