Slangy, Trendy Words Are Still Words

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YOLO, but biatch, lose the moobs.

What do these three words have in common? They are all enshrined in the English-speaking world’s long-reigning record of the language’s vocabulary. That’s right: The Oxford English Dictionary now includes YOLO, biatch, and moobs—and many people are not exactly squeeing about that. They think those words are at best cheeseball and at worst clifty, and they make them want to vom.

And why should that prestigious publication stoop to validating these clearly déclassé descriptors and the ones I employed in the previous sentences? Certainly, no self-respecting person would utter one of these abominations, would they? Such reactions are emphatically shared in online forums with clockwork regularity, as the OED is updated four times a year.

And the counterargument is expressed with equal vigor each quarter: The OED, like any dictionary, is not a museum that exhibits only a circumscribed lexicography acceptable to readers and writers with high standards of self-expression. As should be clear from the frequency with which the OED is expanded, it is a living document that, for better or worse, accepts virtually all comers. It is a record of what English is, not what it should be. (Or, more formally, it is descriptive, not prescriptive.)

But shouldn’t people be discouraged from using such execrable vocabulary? That is not the dictionary’s function. But aren’t many of these terms nonce words—ephemeral curiosities? Yes, many will fade away into obscurity, but not all of them will—nor should they. Our language is full of words once considered slang but now widely accepted (and used) without a second thought.

The point is that sometime, somewhere, somehow, someone will read or hear YOLO and want to look it up to see what it means, or will want to find out the etymology of moobs. You may not have any reason to check the dictionary to confirm how to spell biatch. But someone will, whether you approve of the term or not.

Not all of the new words being uploaded to the OED word-hoard are potentially objectionable (the list also includes the words chefdom, clickbait, and courtside and the open compounds “card leader” “cheek kiss,” and “cheer squad”), but just as, in championing free speech, we must accept (almost) anything someone might say, whether we like it or not, we must be open to not only slang like freemium and slacktivist but more potentially grating terms like the ones I used above. That doesn’t mean you have to like them. (But c’mon, YOLO, right?)

Here are definitions of the neologisms I used in this post:

biatch: a euphemism for bitch, used as a jocular or sincere insult
card reader: a device that reads data from memory-storage devices or from credit cards and similar objects
cheek kiss: a kiss on the cheek as opposed to one on the lips or elsewhere
cheer squad: a unit of cheerleaders or similar performers
cheeseball: a corny or silly person or thing, or a distasteful person or thing
chefdom: the state of being a chef, or the community of chefs
clickbait: online content with little intrinsic value that is presented to tempt site visits to click to multiple pages
clifty: something or someone stupid
courtside: the area adjacent to an athletic court
freemium: something offered free but with hidden costs (a portmanteau word derived from free and premium)
moobs: overdeveloped breasts on a man (a portmanteau word derived from man and boobs); also called man-boobs
squeeing: the act of making a noise expressing delight or surprise
slacktivist: a person who only superficially supports a cause (a portmanteau word derived from slack and activist)
vom: a truncation of vomit
YOLO: an acronym that stands for “You only live once,” expressed to support the decision to enjoy an experience

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12 thoughts on “Slangy, Trendy Words Are Still Words”

  1. Re. the slangy thing: what about ‘facepalm’ which is fairly obvious but an interesting one which I have only heard one person I know use, but which is rather nice: ‘Trustafarian’ which describes someone whose occupation is uncertain but seemingly has unlimited funds – possibly supported by a trust, e.g. “I’ve known Chris for over 30 years and still don’t know what he does. I suspect he might be a trustafarian.”

  2. You wrote: “… we must be open to not only slang like freemium and slacktivist but more potentially grating terms like …”

    I find two problems with the way this was expressed. First, I was taught that the construction “to not only” is incorrect, the proper form being “not only to.” Also, you failed to follow through by using “but to” to complete the construction. I would have written “… we must be open not only to slang … but to grating terms like …”

    I am wondering if these are oversights (or sloppiness?) on your part or whether there is justification for this style of writing.

    I would particularly like to see an article on “to not” as opposed to “not to” where followed by a verb. I have noticed a lot of “to nots” where I would expect to see “not tos.” After all, Shakespeare wrote “To be or not to be …” NOT “To be or to not be …”

    Thanks for putting up with this perhaps nitpicking argument.

  3. Jeffrey:

    There are (at least) two ways to express this thought (and I know of no proscription against the form I used above).

    My version:
    1. “. . . we must be open to not only slang like freemium and slacktivist but more potentially grating terms like . . .”

    I did err in omitting also from the grammatical equation after but. However, because to precedes the “not only . . . but also” comparison, it need not be repeated in this construction.

    Your version:
    2. “. . . we must be open not only to slang like freemium and slacktivist but also to more potentially grating terms like . . .”

    Here, to follows “not only,” so, to produce parallel grammatical structure, a repetition of the word should follow “but also,” as you mention.

    Another option is “. . . we must not only be open to slang like freemium and slacktivist; we must also be receptive to more potentially grating terms like . . .”

    This version, however, requires a more complex sentence construction.

  4. “Clickbait” works for me, as does “card reader”— if you recall “do not bend, fold, spindle, or mutilate.” The rest of them I shall leave to others, “disirregardless” of the OED’s stance.

  5. This is kind of a stupid post. It confused what people mean and say when they say the word “word.”

    When people say something isn’t a word, they don’t really mean that it doesn’t communicated something to someone somewhere. Anything spoken by anyone at anytime is technically a “word.”

    They mean it isn’t a standard word used by educated speakers or writers of a language.

    This entire post is rather stupidly built on this equivocation.

  6. These words most definitely are used by “educated speakers or writers of a language”—admittedly, most likely in jocular, even snarky spoken or written discourse, at the low end of the range of linguistic register—and slang-shaming won’t make them go away.

  7. “This version, however, requires a more complex sentence construction.”

    I can see absolutely nothing wrong with “more complex sentence construction”. It is something that is needed, because otherwise it would not have been invented. I bet that the Egyptians used it in the time of the Pharaohs, and that the Sumerians and the Akkadians used it. I know that Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony used it, and I know that Carl Sagan spoke and wrote beautifully in complex sentences with subordinate clauses and prepositional phrases.
    I am convinced that in ancient times, all people did not talk like this: “Confucius say, ‘Man who live in glass house hang lot of curtains.'”

  8. Mark.

    In what part of comment do you see “slang shaming” take place? Furthermore, I never said that educated speakers do not used the words you provided in this post. These are both strangely irrelevant points to my comment.

    You should really read people’s comments before replying because you didn’t address anything I actually said.

    Another DWT fail (there’s some slang for you).

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