The world’s doomed in anyone’s language as English is broken
September 02, 201312:00
LANGUAGE is a funny, pliable thing. For centuries it was influenced by the best scholars, who found new and inventive ways to advance it and make it more accessible and useful for everyone. Today, it’s more influenced by the idiots who comment on YouTube.
Recently, we broke English. The Oxford English Dictionary Online changed “literally” by adding a less literal, meaning: “informally used for emphasis while not being literally true: I have received literally thousands of letters”.
This is depressing on many levels, but the latest crop of words added to the dictionary is even sadder.
Many of the words added this year have been in circulation for decades, although I think we have only Miley Cyrus to blame for “twerking”.
Amazing to think that all it takes for a word to be added to the dictionary is for someone to organise for a girl to dance around him while he sings a song about raping women too drunk to consent, even after the word’s been a part of hip-hop culture for more than 20 years.
Aside from making fun of an ex-child star’s desperate bid to be relevant after ageing out of Disney, Oxford also added a bunch of acronyms. FIL (father-in-law), SIL (sister-in-law), MIL, BIL, FOMO (fear of missing out). Other non-acronyms also made the cut: S/S (Spring/Summer, as relating to fashion seasons), A/W (Autumn/Winter), BYOD (bring your own device) and LDR (long distance relationship), thus proving that the internet generation is too lazy to type full words. Lol.
Adding to the abbreviation party were “phablet” (a sensible word for an oversized mobile phone), TLDR (too long, didn’t read), apols (apologise, something people who say apols should do), vom (vomit, an action caused by hearing people use apols in a sentence) and grats (for when you feel you must congratulate someone, but don’t respect them enough to use multiple syllables).
The word that I am most pleased to welcome to the actual word club is “squee”. Finally, all my happy LiveJournal icons depicting Glinda from Wicked jumping up and down are employing an actual word rather than just something random.
Of course, the rest of the internet and I are still waiting for “fandom”, “femslash” and “slash fic” to make their way to real word status. It can only be a matter of time.
Speaking of the internet, it is also to blame for these super-useful words: Bitcoin (an internet currency that isn’t tied to a central bank and has a tendency to crash), “emoji” (an emoticon used in text messages and emails, made popular in Japan), “selfie” (a self-portrait, usually taken by insecure people who then flood their friends’ Instagram feeds in the hopes that someone will “like” it and validate their existence) and “unlike” (unliking something on Facebook, thus probably damaging someone’s ego in the process).
The annoying thing about the list is that, like squee, a lot of these should have been considered words years ago.
While my fauxhawk in Year 8 was the worst hair decision I ever made (aside, perhaps, from the time I decided to see what would happen if I dyed my hair red and green, straightened it, and then went on national TV), it was still a familiar enough word at the time that people could throw the shame of it in my face. Only now is that hideous hairdo getting the recognition it deserved at the turn of the century. “Food baby” has been around even longer than that, possibly as long as “girl crush” and “geek chic”, but only now are the nerds at Oxford catching up.
Language evolves not so much through careful cultivation but more though people getting it wrong and making it up. Before the internet, that mostly happened in a vacuum. People would be wrong but, unless they were famous, it would take a long time for their errors to catch on and become right. Now, thanks to every half-wit having access to the world wide web, anyone’s stupidity or inventiveness can change the way billions of people speak.
You know the world is doomed when Miley Cyrus and whichever Kardashian/Hilton/Octomom/Orange Person from Jersey is popular this week has more influence than writers and philosophers.
Alice Clarke is a Melbourne writer. Twitter @Alicedkc