I recently got into an argument with an Average Twelve-Year-Old (ATYO) about language and Instagram, an argument which, I have to admit, is semi-signalling to me the end of the world. When a teen posts a cute picture of, say, a puppy or a baby brother on the photo-sharing app, other teens invariably comment “awe”. I pointed out to the ATYO that they really mean “awww” and that “awe” actually means “an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear or wonder produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful”. She seemed unimpressed by the distinction. If there is a difference between God and a cute puppy it’s uninteresting to her.
Continuing in this vein, I said that all the kids commenting on Instagram and using “artsy” as a great compliment were misusing that word — “artsy” actually being a negative term meaning pretentious or fake or trying too hard to seem artistic. The ATYO looked at me with the pity one might feel towards a tourist struggling to read a menu in a strange land: “That’s not what it means on Instagram.” I realised, to my horror, that she was right. The words, as I and the Oxford English Dictionary understood them, were rapidly vanishing into the world of Instagram and its 400 million users, in which “awe” is about puppies, and “artsiness”, skilfully filtered, is vastly preferable to art.