Make Way for New Words
The Oxford English Dictionary has an insatiable appetite for new entries: Every three months, it expands its inventory with dozens of words. A recent newspaper article, however, sensationalized recent acquisitions by selectively announcing a pile of pop-culture-inspired terms, missing the whole point of a dictionary.
The OED, like most other dictionaries, is descriptivist: It describes the state of the language. Some descriptivist resources weigh in on the formality of given entries, or their acceptability by a panel of language experts. The procedure for approving candidate terms for inclusion varies, as dictionary staffs differ on how long a term should have been in general circulation before it earns the stamp of approval.
But dictionaries do not include or omit words based on their quality. So, withhold your outrage when you read that you can now find such entries as bromance (a close friendship between two men), guyliner (eyeliner worn by a man), and mankini (a man’s one-piece bathing suit with shoulder straps). The apocalypse is not nigh. The OED is merely reflecting usage. (Well, OK, maybe the apocalypse is nigh.)
But wait, you argue. You wouldn’t be caught uttering or penning one of those words, inducted into the OED in 2011. My rebuttal? I deduce that you are over twenty-five years old. Well, yes, you might reply — as is a majority of the world’s English-reading population. That’s true, and many people born in the last twenty-five years would probably be embarrassed to employ one of these terms in conversation, too. But many folks of all ages know these words — they’re in our word-hoard, whether we choose to speak or write them or not. And though some may turn out to be ephemeral, the OED has rightfully catalogued them as being in current usage.
Here are a few terms added in the most recent round that I predict might have more staying power than those listed above:
Cybercast: an online audiovisual broadcast
Paywall: an online system that restricts access to those who pay a subscription
Super PAC: a political action committee with restrictions on funding as long as specific political candidates are not the recipients
In the What Took You So Long category are such terms as blacktop, a verb describing the process of paving a surface (the noun form already existed in the OED’s pages), earthlike (self-explanatory), and supertitle, the word for transcribed or translated text displayed above a stage or on a screen.
In the Department of Redundancy Department category is bimble, a synonym (primarily used in British English) for amble or meander. But English is replete with multiple words with the same meaning, so bring it on.
An honorable mention, for clever coinage, goes to aptronym, the word for a personal name usually humorously or ironically suited to the person, such as in the case of an undertaker named Grimm or a clumsy woman named Grace.
Whether you love or hate each of these terms or the hundreds of others being poured into dictionaries each year, keep in mind that although inclusion does enhance the possibility that they will be used more often, the realm of English is a free country, and you are welcome to accept or reject them in your own writing.
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