So, the Oxford Dictionary added some words.
Since this event occurs four times each and every year, I was baffled by the hysteria that has surrounded the recent additions. The reactions ranged from memes about the end of the world, to Facebook posts decrying the shame and devolution of humanity, to journalists themselves wondering whether we “really need” some of these new words, or even actively turning their noses up at the “repulsive-sounding terminology” and concluding that “No doubt [these words] have their place, but let them stay there.”
First and foremost, let me clear up a few confusions. The Oxford English Dictionary – that is, the OED, the “Definitive Record of the English Language” – has not added these words. These words have been added to Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO) – the free, online version, which more speedily records changes to the vernacular. An excellent and more thorough exploration of the difference as it relates to these words has been written by Ben Richmond at Motherboard.
Second, these words are not just added to annoy people. According to Angus Stevenson of Oxford Dictionaries Online, approximately 1.8 billion new words are detected each year, and each month ODO adds about 150 million words to their database of English usage, but only around 1,000 of these are ultimately added to ODO. “New words, senses, and phrases are added to Oxford Dictionaries Online when we have gathered enough independent evidence from a range of sources to be confident that they have widespread currency in English,” says Angus of ODO. “Publishing online allows us to make the results of our research available more quickly than ever before.”
Third, and the thing that most people seem to disagree with, is the role of a dictionary. I’ve had a rant about this previously when discussing the word antidisestablishmentarianism, in which I argue that the role of the OED/ODO is descriptive rather than prescriptive. Other dictionaries are indeed more restrictive in their new additions, but the consensus is that if a word maintains widespread, sustained and meaningful usage then it is added to a dictionary. In this way, a dictionary is neither the record of a snobbish elite, nor the constantly changing trends of the masses, but an (almost) up-to-date and valuable resource that reflects current and past usage of our verbal and written communication.
Basically, dictionaries reflect our language use. The purpose of them is so that, when we hear or read a word that we do not know, we are able to go to a moderated* reference source in order to work out what that word means and how to use it.
This was neatly summarised by Yahoo Tech’s technology editor Jason Gilbert in a Tweet: “The OED comprehensively tracks changes to English. If we all start using a word, it will get added to the OED. End of story.”
So, apols to everyone who thought that – as an English PhD candidate – I too would shake my head in shame at humanity, and declare the need for a digital detox at this latest dictionary omnishambles, but while I may not exactly squee over Miley Cyrus’ twerking†, neither will I vom and make a fuss about a dictionary doing what a dictionary’s got to do.
*As much as the examples in Urban Dictionary are hilarious, it is a less useful reference system precisely because anyone can edit it, and it has no moderation, which leads to painfully long and sometimes contradictory entries.
†According to Katherine Connor Martin, from Oxford Dictionaries Online, “The current public reaction to twerking is reminiscent in some ways of how the twisting craze was regarded in the early 1960s, when it was first popularised by Chubby Checker’s song, the Twist.” (She also adds that “twerk” has been in use for the past two decades.)
Below is a list of some of the new words, taken from The Washington Post.
• apols, pl. n. (informal): apologies.
• A/W, abbrev.: autumn/winter (denoting or relating to fashion designed for the autumn and winter seasons of a particular year). (See also S/S)
• babymoon, n. (informal): a relaxing or romantic holiday taken by parents-to-be before their baby is born; a period of time following the birth of a baby during which the new parents can focus on establishing a bond with their child.
• balayage, n.: a technique for highlighting hair in which the dye is painted on in such a way as to create a graduated, natural-looking effect.
• bitcoin, n.: a digital currency in which transactions can be performed without the need for a central bank.
• blondie, n.: a small square of dense, pale-coloured cake, typically of a butterscotch or vanilla flavour.
• buzzworthy, adj. (informal): likely to arouse the interest and attention of the public, either by media coverage or word of mouth.
• BYOD, n.: abbreviation of ‘bring your own device’: the practice of allowing the employees of an organization to use their own computers, smartphones, or other devices for work purposes.
• cake pop, n.: a small round piece of cake coated with icing or chocolate and fixed on the end of a stick so as to resemble a lollipop.
• chandelier earring, n.: a long, elaborate dangling earring, typically consisting of various tiers of gemstones, crystals, beads, etc.
• click and collect, n.: a shopping facility whereby a customer can buy or order goods from a store’s website and collect them from a local branch.
• dappy, adj. (informal): silly, disorganized, or lacking concentration.
• derp, exclam. & n. (informal): (used as a substitute for) speech regarded as meaningless or stupid, or to comment on a foolish or stupid action.
• digital detox, n.: a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world.
• double denim, n.: a style of dress in which a denim jacket or shirt is worn with a pair of jeans or a denim skirt, often regarded as a breach of fashion etiquette.
• emoji, n: a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion in electronic communication.
• fauxhawk, n: a hairstyle in which a section of hair running from the front to the back of the head stands erect, intended to resemble a Mohican haircut (in which the sides of the head are shaved).
• FIL, n.: a person’s father-in-law (see also MIL, BIL, SIL).
• flatform, n.: a flat shoe with a high, thick sole.
• FOMO, n.: fear of missing out: anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.
• food baby, n.: a protruding stomach caused by eating a large quantity of food and supposedly resembling that of a woman in the early stages of pregnancy.
• geek chic, n.: the dress, appearance, and culture associated with computing and technology enthusiasts, regarded as stylish or fashionable.
• girl crush, n. (informal): an intense and typically non-sexual liking or admiration felt by one woman or girl for another.
• grats, pl. n. (informal): congratulations.
• guac, n.: guacamole.
• hackerspace, n.: a place in which people with an interest in computing or technology can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge.
• Internet of things, n.: a proposed development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.
• jorts, pl. n.: denim shorts.
• LDR, n.: a long-distance relationship.
• me time, n. (informal): time spent relaxing on one’s own as opposed to working or doing things for others, seen as an opportunity to reduce stress or restore energy.
• MOOC, n.: a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people.
•omnishambles, n. (informal): a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations.
• pear cider, n.: an alcoholic drink made from the fermented juice of pears.
• phablet, n.: a smartphone having a screen which is intermediate in size between that of a typical smartphone and a tablet computer.
• pixie cut, n.: a woman’s short hairstyle in which the hair is cropped in layers, typically so as to create a slightly tousled effect.
• selfie, n. (informal): a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.
• space tourism, n.: the practice of travelling into space for recreational purposes.
• squee, exclam. & v. & n. (informal): (used to express) great delight or excitement.
• srsly, adv. (informal): short for ‘seriously’.
• street food, n.: prepared or cooked food sold by vendors in a street or other public location for immediate consumption.
• TL;DR, abbrev.: ‘too long didn’t read’: used as a dismissive response to a lengthy online post, or to introduce a summary of a lengthy post.
• twerk, v.: dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.
• unlike, v.: withdraw one’s liking or approval of (a web page or posting on a social media website that one has previously liked).
• vom, v. & n. (informal): (be) sick; vomit.