In my Fun with Language post “Creating New Words”, I wrote about how people creatively come up with new words to describe situations. In truth, our language is constantly changing with real new words being added all the time. For instance, before 1945 the word “television” didn’t exist. “Internet” entered common usage only in the early 90s. Lexicographers have added over 2,000 new words, phrases and new meanings to the third edition of The Oxford American Dictionary and more are to come!
New words that our popular culture has inserted into the English language include: unfriend (thanks to FaceBook), agroterrorism, megachurch, staycation (stay at home vacation), tweet (not a new word but an added definition to the sound a bird makes, thanks to Twitter) and waterboarding. New words might enter our social conversations on a daily basis, but they do take years to be “approved” for inclusion in The Oxford American Dictionary.
New phrases which also can be a combination of new and old words or words used in a new way to describe something, become sanctioned as part of our language as time goes on. Some examples that didn’t exist 10 years ago: get one’s arms around, my bad, job something out, less is more, what’s not to like?, have skin in the game, talk the talk, and the ubiquitous “heart” as a synonym for love, as in “I heart publicity.”
Thanks to texting’s (here is an old word with a new definition!) and Twitter’s condensed character recquirements, there are also a variety of abbreviations that now substitute for words, including TTYL (talk to you later), LBD (little black dress), BFF (a girl’s best friend, which originated from best friend forever), and LMAO (laughing my *** off).
As to computer spell checkers coming into the 21st century, dream on. As I’m writing this, my computer dictionary is telling me I have a bunch of spelling errors, all of which are the “new words”. The last time I played scrabble against my computer, it wouldn’t accept any of these new words but some of the words it used were too obscure for a human to have used.
So, writers, authors, publishers and English teachers, do you feel uncomfortable using any of these words in your writing? Why? Do you consider them nothing more than slang and should not have a place in The Oxford American Dictionary?
OK, if you’ve been asking “What the heck is a ‘tramp stamp’ or a ‘bromance’” surf (ah, another old word that now has a new definition!) to the Oxford University Press’s blog to find the answer and learn more new and off the wall words and phrases.