how the industrial revolution changed language



The Industrial Revolution was a period from around 1800 to around 1900 that many consider to be one of the pivotal eras of human history. The century heralded in advancements in math, science, and technology and was instrumental in bringing about the modern age.


Moreover, the Industrial Revolution changed society by transforming what had been largely agrarian society to one focused on innovation and industry. It also was credited for creating the merchant -- or middle class -- which has since become the bedrock of today's world.


Less known, however, is that the Industrial Revolution also had its effects on art -- including writing. One of my favorite lectures in college documented how language began to change with the rise of industry, leading to the creation of new words and metaphors that are commonplace in writing today.


With the rise of capitalism also came the use of economic metaphors. For example, "is it worth your while?" Or "I lost a lot of time trying to find parking."


More examples include "I spent a day at the beach" and "He wasted my time."


It was not just the specific language that was influenced by the industrial age. It was also the way many stories were being told. Beginning in the early 1800s, publishers -- eager to widen their base to include less affluent readers -- began serializing stories. This meant that books were published chapter by chapter in newspapers or magazines. Charles Dickens of Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol fame is one of the most famous examples of an author who serialized his or her work.


Publishing week by week pioneered one of the most important tropes of all time: the cliffhanger. In fact, the actual term came from a serialized Thomas Hardy novel, A Pair Of Blue Eyes, in which a character is literally left hanging off a cliff at the end of the chapter.


Many of these serials would end with the classic line ". . . to be continued," and many would also feature a recap at the beginning of each new offering, not unlike television shows today.


Though it would be false to suggest that cliffhangers did not exist in literature before the Victorian age, most would agree that the age perfected it.


Thoughts on how times can change language begs the question of if technology today has had a similar influence. But upon reflection, I've actually come to the conclusion that language might have had more of an effect on technology today than vice versa. But that is a post for another time.