Back in the Day

by Translation Guy on November 29, 2010

The article Back in the Day was originally posted on Technorati on November 26, 2010 by featured Technorati author, Ken Clark.

Back in the day, no one ever said, “Back in the day…” It was “In the good old days…” or something like that. It’s a new expression, just like “shellacked.” Last month, it was a phrase used only by shellackers like myself, but ever since the elections, it’s been on the lips and fingertips of a vast ocean of media pundits. So, back in the day, who was the guy who coined the current iteration? Was it the President himself? I suppose it’s easy enough to figure out on Google. But back in the day before the web, there was this guy in my high school who always took credit for inventing the latest HS tagline. Did we have geeks back then? I don’t remember, but that’s got to be the ultimate nerd thing, to claim invention of a new word or phrase.

So these guys who come up with all these new languages? Go figure. That’s like asking for trouble. Who needs more languages? You do, right? You and James Cameron and all your big ego pals all need their own special language. OK. Got to admit, I’m a secret admirer of invented languages. I mean, that’s basically how my Japanese sounds today.

Caleb Cox at the Register wrote on this world of made-up languages in his review of The Land of Invented Languages by Akira Okrent. He claims that “society tends to regard people who learn these languages as uber geeky and socially inept, but we often overlook the reasons why they’re so obsessed with the fantasies they love.” I think this is just a spillover of the whole multilingual effect on personality. I mean, think of all the odd translators you know. Hey, I’m just saying… Take a look in the mirror, word nerd. You have nothing to lose but your acne.

What seems to drive most of these language visionaries is their irritation with language as we know it. There’s always something wrong with the language―not enough words, not enough speakers, bad spelling — take your pick. But whereas you, like I, are most likely to misspell your way through life in silent protest, these new language guys create a new language and then go sell it.

And it’s been a tough sell, especially back in the day before search engines and the Web. So building a base takes a lot of time and enthusiasm. And just as languages usually come with an army, artificial languages come with a movie franchise.

Klingon, thanks to Star Trek, has been encouraged to promote the brand, and has evolved from a few random phrases jotted down by Scotty into a language of discourse among competitive fans.

Cox suggests that “perhaps there’s a possible element of superiority involved; to express complete devotion for a work of fiction, one has to push the boat out further than the rest. To follow suit becomes a must for serious fans who otherwise risk appearing less enthusiastic than others. With so much time already invested, there’s too much pride at stake to appear second best.”

Here’s some Klingon opera from the Terran Research Ensemble if you want to hear the fat lady sing. And with that over, so is this post. Curtain down.


  1. Steven Boyd says:

    Ah, the 90s version of “When I was…” or “Remember when…?” only a language lover can appreciate such a post. Thanks Ken!

  2. The opera ‘u’, retelling the legend of the battles of “Kahless the Unforgettable”, is the first Earth production of a Klingon opera. Loved it. And yes, you can tell, I’m a huge uber geek!

  3. I have invented a language, called Skerre. Am I the only one who endeavors in this pursuit? Certainly not. There is an international conlang community, in touch with each other through a listserv called CONLANG, who discuss their invented languages through the listserv. And doubtless there are numerous other people not online. There are also several famous conlangers. J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, invented both Quenya and Sindarin for his elves, and Marc Okrand invented the now popular Klingon, which, contrary to popular belief and The Onion, does not have more speakers than Navajo.

  4. Ben Gay says:

    LOL, Ken it’s a completely meaningless phrase which has gained inexplicable global popularity. It’s an incomplete thought: Back in what day? It’s a redundant way of saying “Once, I…” or “I used to…” and adds words without adding any extra meaning. Similar to the equally pointless “at the end of the day…” popularised by English soccer stars.
    Back in the day, I used to be younger.

    I was a child once, back in the day.

  5. Joel Park says:

    Wang: Back in the day we used to eat wood.
    Chong: No you idiot, that was a thursday. you dumbass.

  6. Hi Ken, I think you’re missing a huge piece of the language discussion when you haven’t mentioned computer languages. It’s the way of the future man!

    • Ken says:

      Computer languages… now that’s argot to a C-type like me. . Those machines are already talking about us behind our backs. Skynet calling!

  7. Ah, inventing a language… linguistics is the scientific study of language, in general, that is the study of the system of language — not learning to speak, write, read, or understand numerous languages. The simple answer to the question, how you invent languages, is merely to apply the discoveries of linguistics backwards.

  8. polar f4 says:

    Hi. I wanted to drop you a quick note to express my thanks. I’ve been following your blog for a month or so and have picked up a ton of good information as well as enjoyed the way you’ve structured your site.

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