The Oxford English Dictionary, one of the most respected lexical collections in the English-speaking world, recently issued an update (they do this monthly, in case you’re interested) describing some of the new words that have been added to the dictionary. You can read about all the additions in the article linked in the previous, sentence, but here are some of my favorites:
- “Binge watch” is now recognized by the dictionary as a term to describe viewing multiple episodes of a TV series in one sitting (or nearly one sitting). This is a great example of a term that arises as technology shifts the way we live our lives and, in this case, consume media/entertainment. Binge watching would have been more difficult in the days before Netflix and other streaming services; although you could binge watch a series with DVDs (and some of have), something about the wide accessibility and ease prompted by services like Netflix has allowed this practice to become more widely practiced, leading to the need for a term that describes it. As is common in our language, we took pre-exiting words and combined them in a new, descriptive way.
- “Mansplain” is a word that I’ve never heard in usage myself, but is one that I definitely like and hope to hear more of. A gendered term, the word is used to refer to the way a man is explaining something to another (usually a woman) in a condescending tone. This term seems to have emerged from the online realm.
- I’ve heard (and read) the term “brick” quite a bit in the blogs and discussion forums that I follow and in casual conversations about mobile phones and other devices, so I’m surprised that it’s just now making it’s way into the OED. (To “brick” a mobile phone is to make it unusable, often by modifying the phone’s software in an unsupported way.) The OED also describes the noun form, although I more often hear the adjective form used to describe unusable phones (i.e., “my bricked phone”).
Of additional interest is this blog post from a technology blog that I follow (Engadget) where I first read about this month’s updates. In this excerpt you can see the author’s dismay at the fact that such a venerable institution as the OED would succumb to public pressure and admit words like these into its volumes:
Throughout 2014’s great dictionary refresh, one publication remained above attention-grabbing fripperies like adding YOLO, amazeballs and selfie to their lists. That’s why we’re disappointed to report that even the venerated Oxford English Dictionary has now sunk down to this level. Oxford Dictionaries has announced that you can now find words like — audible sigh — side boob, baller, hate-watch, adorbs, amazeballs, mansplain, humblebrag, douchebaggery and clickbait to its online records.
I remind you that, as we’ve talked about in class, a dictionary exists primarily to describe the words and language used by people, and the OED is no exception. Its purpose is not to dictate (or prescribe) acceptable usage; instead, it defines words that we might hear or read in everyday encounters. Yet, if you read the comments connected to the linked post, you’ll see a lot of dislike (and even outright disgust) at the mere presence and use of these words, let alone their addition to a dictionary.
Language exists to serve the needs of those who speak it. While it’s important that the language have standards that help unify the way it’s used, there’s no reason why a language can’t (or shouldn’t) evolve and change to meet the needs of those who use it. In fact, were language to become a fixed and immutable thing, resistant to our changing needs and circumstances, I think its utility would drop sharply. I love that we invent, borrow, and embrace new words into our language, and I value especially the way it facilitates our communication with each other. (How else to explain those hours I lost watching episode after episode of Veronica Mars that one Saturday?)