Each year, more and more words are added to English lexicons. New meanings are given to existing words by media, politicians, celebrities, artists, educators, writers, techies and just by about anyone creative enough to a neologism. This term simply means a new word or a new phrase that is being commonly used but not yet included in mainstream language.
Changes to the English language do not go unnoticed by linguists and lexicographers. While some of the other languages in the world are being fiercely protected in their mother countries, English seems to enjoy the influx of new terms into its dictionaries. "OMG," "FYI," "Britcom," "emailed," "goldendoodle," and "brain candy" are just some of the surprising entries to the Oxford English Dictionary.
The vanguard of words both old and new
The Oxford English Dictionary or OED was born over 150 years ago. It is not just any English dictionary that presents the current-day definition of terms; more importantly, it is also a historical dictionary. This dictionary presents the history behind individual words and phrases culled from literary classics, periodicals, cookery books, film scripts and more. Because it takes a historical approach to words, you can see how certain words, and the language itself, has changed over the years.
Oxford University Press, which publishes the OED, has a language research program that exists partly in order to gather new words, new meanings or changes to the language. They decide what new words are added to their different dictionaries. The OED in particular is updated 4 times a year. The first update comes out in March and the succeeding updates are in June, September and December of the same year.
Where does the Oxford University Press find the new words? Some are found in documents that come out in the World Wide Web. Other new words are sourced from song lyrics, fictional works, scientific journals and other writings. The Oxford University Press relies on a network of readers from all over the world who serve as their eyes and ears looking out for occurrences of new words, new meanings or changes to the language.
Evidence of usage of the new words is necessary whether in print or in online sources. It is not enough to accept new words heard in conversation, in movies or television shows. Though material coming from scripts and Internet message boards are analyzed.
When multiple writers use a new word it can become a candidate for addition to the OED. The new words that are included in the updates are those that are deemed most significant and those that may be in use for a long time.
Lexicographers are facing a challenge these days since many new words achieve popularity and acceptance in a short time period. There was a time when new words, in order to be considered for inclusion, had to be in use for 2 or 3 years. This is not the case now. In today's tech age, new terms are created in a blink of an eye. Assessing whether a new word is evanescent or eternal is a job lexicographers take seriously.
2011's new words, et al
In the March 2011 update, which features more than 1,900 new entries and changes, you can find "couch surfer" and "ego surfer." The later means a person who boosts his ego by searching for his own name on Google and other search engines. Today's ego surfer goes beyond "Googling" himself. He boosts his ego by upping his Twitter friends and Facebook followers. The former is a person who has made it a habit to sleep in other people's homes instead of getting his own permanent place.
Some purists were probably up in arms when they found out that two popular initialisms landed on the March 2011 OED update: "LOL (laugh out loud)" and "OMG (Oh my God/gosh/goodness)." Both initialisms make certain people cringe but are widely accepted by the youth and the youth-at-heart.
After sitting in the sidelines for many years, "WAG" is now part of OED. It was first used in 2002 to refer to "wives and girlfriends" of footballers in England. The acronym never caught one until the high-profile wives and girlfriends of sports figures entered the limelight and the media started to take notice of them.
From the popularity of the 'I ♥ NY' campaign came the use of the word "heart" as a verb. "I ♥ (heart) you" means "I love you." The word "heart" as a verb is equivalent to "to love."
One phrase that women (and some men) would rather not see associated with their names is "muffin top." This refers to the (often unsightly) roll of fat that appears on top of trousers that feature a low waist.
1,800 entries made it to the June 2011 update to OED. "Brain candy" is a non-intellectually stimulating form of popular entertainment. It may stimulate the mind in a most pleasant way but it does nothing to intellectually stimulate the brain. It can be likened to "eye candy" (something visually stimulating) and "ear candy" (a sound pleasant to the ears) both of which do nothing to get you closer to getting a Mensa card.
Instead of saying "urban area (city)" you can now use the word "urb." C3PO is a "bot," short for "robot." "Enviro" is a shortened form for the noun "environment" or the adjective "environmental."
Terms that originated from the Spanish language like "lucha libre," "luchador" and "salsa verde" made it to the June 2011 update.
About 1,500 new words and meanings were included in the third update for 2011. The update welcomes terms associated with culinary delights that use chocolate as an ingredient. In the following terms, the word "black" is used to mean chocolate as a main component of the culinary creation: "black bottom," "black and white" and "blackout cake."
Japanese popular culture continues to invade the imaginations of many across the Pacific via Japanese comic books or "manga" and animation or "anime." The September 2011 update features 2 gender-specific terms for Japanese manga and anime comics: "shonen" (for your boys) and "shojo" (for young girls).
Other interesting words are "Britcom" (British comedy), "Goldendoodle" (a mix of Golden Retriever and Poodle), "ambo" (ambulance) and "emailed" (sent via electronic mail). If you want to be hip, exaggerate the way you pronounce the word "cool" by saying is as "kewl" and spelling it that way, too.
The December 2011 update has pushed OED into reaching a milestone. Since March 2000, when OED first graced the web with updated material, OED has included 100,000 new as well as revised entries to its dictionary. Their current running total is 102,133 entries.
"Stich 'n bitch" is an entry that means a gathering of individuals who chat or gossip while knitting or crocheting. Another entry is "va-jay-jay," a term uttered frequently by media mogul Oprah Winfrey. It means "vagina." "Abott's bobby" has nothing to do with the mammary glands. It actually refers to an endangered species of seabirds. If you want to refer to someone as your best friend, you can say he's your "boon coon" instead.
Note on OED and ODO
Oxford University Press takes charge of both OED and ODO or Oxford Dictionary Online. While the OED offers definitions as well as the historical background of words and phrases, the ODO presents words and phrases as they are used today. ODO is more on practical usage. It gets its words from a 2.3 billion 21st-century English word databank called the Oxford English Corpus. If you need assistance in using English for today's audience, ODO is your go-to dictionary.
Rapidly expanding language
New words, new meanings and changes to the English language are inevitable especially now that humans are in the digital age. Because it is so easy to communicate and share ideas, neologisms seem to pop up faster than you can say the word neologism. Some new terms added to OED have actually made their appearance in documents, letters and other forms of text many years ago. But is it only now that these new terms are being used to their full potential. It seems that no one can stop the continued growth of the English language. It will continue to evolve.
Purists have criticized the makers of OED for adding "BFF (best friends forever)" and a host of other terms they find questionable. There may be merit in their criticisms. But if you don't include these new terms into an existing dictionary, where do you put them then and how do you stop people from using them?
Some say that language is not alive and it is not supposed to evolve. Unfortunately, it seems that language has a life of its own. It is moving towards the direction dictated by society and, lately, of technology. The question now is do you use these new terms or ignore them completely?
In this age of endless "tweeting," "Googling," "emailing," and reality television, it is best to keep yourself abreast with neologisms that you can use in your daily communication with people close to you and with the rest of the world.
Photocredit: by etnobofin