Every year the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) adds new words to its online dictionary. This year’s crop was very exciting for me because the word “hangry” (meaning, “bad tempered or irritable because of hunger”) made the cut and, about four years ago I used that word in a piece called, Feeding the Hangry.
Four years ago! I was so ahead of the curve on that one!
I immediately told my kids how cool I am.
Never one to allow me to bask in my coolness, my younger son informed me that other cool words also made the cut, like “rando,” as in “a person one does not know, especially one regarded as odd, suspicious, or engaging in socially inappropriate behavior,” and “mkay” as in “to invite agreement, approval, or confirmation,” (in other words, “okay” spelled with an “m” instead of an “o”). Then there was “beer-o’clock” as in the right time to start drinking beer and “melty” because, apparently, melted is too difficult to write.
Not only did I not feel cool anymore but, I started to become very worried about my children’s use of the English language in the future.
I’m all for making up words. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things to do as I get older and I can’t remember words when I’m speaking. Just the other day, for instance, I suffered from a total brain fart. I couldn’t remember the words: real estate broker. So I went with “thepersonwhoputsyourhouseonthemarketwhenyouaretryingtosellit.”
Thankfully most of my friends also suffer from “old age brain” as well (see what I did there? I coined a phrase) so everyone can figure out what I’m talking about or at least not make fun of my new words.
But sometimes, made up words should have a short shelf life. Unfortunately with the advent of the Internet (one of 1974’s new words) new words crop up often and get passed around and, unfortunately, they never seem to die.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand the need for new words. Before text-messaging evolved in the 1980s there was no need for a word that described sending a message via text. Hence the need for a new word. Similarly, Goldendoodle dogs didn’t exist until the 2000s so that’s when the definition of Goldendoodle became relevant. Once they became a breed they were given a name.
Those words actually refer to something specific and definable. The word “fur-baby,” as in “a furry pet,” is neither specific nor definable. Call it your dog or your cat or your hamster. Or, call it your fur-baby. But does that word really have to be included in an archive of current English usage like the OED?
According to the Oxford Dictionary website it does. It is also one of the top 5 most popular words in the U.S. as of today.
Right up there with:
-Butthurt and, my favorite,
–unthaw – which now has a new meaning. The new definition as set out in the OED does not mean to freeze something. It now means to thaw. So, what’s with the “un” which means to negate?
At this point I don’t even know if I’m using real words in this post.
The interesting thing is that the tag line for the Oxford Dictionary’s webpage is: Language Matters. I assume that means that they are discussing matters of language instead of trying to tell us that the language we use makes a difference, because, if that is the case, then the word “swole” should not be a word. You know why? Because we already have the words, “swell” and “swollen.” SWOLE IS NOT A WORD!
But, apparently it is.
In fact, it has, according to the peeps over at OED, been used so much as to demonstrate “continued historical use.”
According to Fiona McPherson, senior editor of the OED’s new words group, in an interview with The Telegraph, new words are only added to oxforddictionaries.com after they “have been around for a reasonable amount of time and are in common use.”
Which means that enough people in the world have been using the term “cat café” (“a cafe or similar establishment where people pay to interact with cats housed on the premises”) to warrant the term’s inclusion in the dictionary.
Now do you understand why I am worried for my children and my children’s children??
Thankfully, words do fall out of fashion. For instance, the 1950s brought us the words aerospace, brainwash, artificial intelligence, do-it-yourself, and decaf but it also brought “Nowheresville” and “noshery.” Similarly, the 1990s gave us emoticon, gastropub, carjacking, and World Wide Web but also gave us “geeksville” and “poptastic.”
So there may be hope…or not.
Ms. McPherson believes that including slang words like “bants” (to banter) and “weak sauce” (“something that is of a poor or disappointing standard or quality”) isn’t “really about dumbing down, it’s more creative ways that people are using language.”
Great, next year all of our words will be creatively missing vowels.