… So it seems as though we all have our own fingerprint words, and we’re all simultaneously donating to and stealing from those around us. But how do we pick up these linguistic signature words, and what is going on when we notice other people using those words and we feel, well, a certain way about it?
Diana Boxer, a professor at the University of Florida who specializes in sociolinguistics, says that when we find ourselves in a situation where someone uses language differently than we do, or words we’re unfamiliar with, we usually respond in one of two ways. “We either start to mimic them in some way, or distinguish ourselves from their usage,” she says. “This has to do with how we want to portray our identities. If we identify with them, want to be like them, we’ll start speaking like they do.” So, Boxer continues, when those around us snatch our fingerprint words, we should be flattered. “In your case, with iteration, you probably heard it or read it somewhere and identified with the usage or user,” she says. “You then took it on. Others around you did the same. This is a compliment to you.”
But according to Stanford psychology professor Benoît Monin, I shouldn’t pat myself on the back too fervently. In many cases, when we decide to latch onto these sorts of words, it’s because we’re using language to put on a show. “There could be some element of language snobbery here,” says Monin, whose research focuses on self-image and social norms. “Like, ‘I’m a discriminate language user, and I use these rare words that few people use, and by using them I show that I’m educated.’ ” […]