Now, wait a minute. I’m not diving into the quagmire that is evolution versus creationism. No, no, no. This is more about what we do as a civilization in general.
We build homes to withstand hurricanes and earthquakes because we’ve learned how to do just that. We’ve invented shoes that are waterproof because somebody stepped in a puddle, and we’ve created remote controls because another person didn’t want to get off the couch. As we encounter new things, we adapt.
And so it goes with our language. Technology has created new devices, and new words to describe those devices. Through text messages, IMs, tweets and emails, we’ve developed an international form of technological shorthand, making it more efficient to send messages at the expense of what has long been considered “proper English.” Of course, “proper English” is a relative term anyway, as the entire language is a strange conglomeration of about 1,000 earlier languages thrown into a linguistic gumbo. Man, I love gumbo. I remember a bowl I had one time in ...
But I digress.
Our language is nothing if not interesting. Slang and “inside jokes” have spawned words that have been adopted by the mainstream, and there really is no better example of the mainstream ideal of the English language than the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It is an interesting collection of words in that it constantly evolves. New words come, and old words leave. The original version of the OED contained 38,000 words, according to gizmodo.com. The latest edition contains 66,500 words. That’s a lot of change over time, and a much bigger struggle for spelling bee enthusiasts.
I get excited when the OED announces its changes, and it recently came out with a few new words that will grace its now-digital pages. Let’s take a look at a few of the new words we can now all use without fear of being looked down upon for using unaccepted words.
• Retweet — This is one I use pretty frequently. It’s when someone shares a message that was put out on Twitter. When Twitter first started gaining popularity, I was one of the people highly critical of it. The idea of people sending out little 140-character updates on what they’re doing at any given time gave me shudders, and I wrote a column ridiculing it. Of course, I’ve since become a convert, enjoying the links that people tweet to news articles and columns, as well as knowing what books fell off people’s shelves during Tuesday’s earthquake and what Kim Kardashian had for brunch. I better move on to the next word now.
• Sexting — Brett Favre probably made this word famous by his rather infamous controversy last year, but if you haven’t already heard about this word, it’s basically flirting by sending explicit text messages. Curious, I tried this with Bob Bertram. Didn’t do anything for either of us. Well, I can only speak for myself, to be honest.
• Cyberbullying — It is what it sounds like. This is using technology to bully a person, by threats, humiliation or by simply spewing hatred. We’ve heard quite a bit about this with young gay people being cyberbullied, and it is pretty common in school-age children to spread gossip and inuendo at faster rates that ever thought possible before. In fact, I just called Point reporter Maria Counts a “stinkyhead” from the comfort of my office chair, and it took little to no effort at all. (And it’s true. She really can be a stinkyhead.)
• Mankini — This is a bikini for men. For years, a certain Eskimo who works here has been calling this a “Shaunkini.” I’ve chosen instead to just call it gross.
• Jeggings — This is a term that refers to leggings that resemble tight jeans. Where have you gone, John Wayne?
Of course, the evolution of a language does come with certain sacrifices. As words become obsolete, the OED banishes them from its listings. This year, we saw “brabble” and “growlery” hit the streets from being in the OED sheets and, really, does that impact anybody’s day-to-day life?
However, “cassette tape” is also leaving the OED. I remember the first cassette player I had in a car and I thought I was living the high life. Huey Lewis and U2 were often blaring through my scratchy speakers, replacing the Supertramp 8-track that had been in near-constant use before the change.
And now I can’t even say “cassette tape” without being grammatically obsolete. But I can order a mankini ...