Can you feel an odd buzz in the air? It’s the reverberations of every word nerd’s convulsions of disapproval as Webster’s pads its pages with selections from Urban Dictionary. This installment includes new words “F-bomb,” “man cave,” “sexting” and “mash-up.” What the hell, you might be thinking. Those aren’t word-words, they’re Internet-isms!
Neetzan Zimmerman notes,
“Some of the new words this year provide colorful images,” M-W editor-at-large Peter Sokolwski said in a statement. “Terms like ‘man cave,’ ‘underwater’ (when used to describe mortgages), ‘earworm,’ and ‘bucket list’ paint vivid pictures in your mind. They show that English-speakers can be very creative as they describe the world around them.”
The word causing by far the most commotion is “F-bomb,” which M-W associate editor Kory Stamper calls “very visually evocative.” Merriam-Webster will be the first mainstream dictionary to put the controversial colloquialism to print.
If your reaction is something along the lines of “OMG, LOL,” don’t hate yourself. Actually, pat yourself on the back. It’s perfectly OK to use those oft-derided text-speak acronyms — as of 2011, they (and that <3 heart symbol) are Oxford English Dictionary–approved. Which means they carry equal gravitas as, say, “schadenfreude” or “zeitgeist.”
And who are you to say otherwise? Are the “schadenfreude” and “zeitgeist” more Word-y than “f-bomb” just because they’re esoteric? Or because of their syllable count? Their non-English roots? No way. That’s elitism, and elitism is un-American. Language is populist in nature: Every word in Webster’s got in because at some point in history, lots of human beings (not just a few, really smart human beings) were speaking it.
In my experience as a copy editor — an actual, paid authority on English words! — evolving language is something to be celebrated. Here’s a loose example: The reason why you might not believe “blow job” and “douche bag” are open compounds is that nobody styles them that way. Rules like that are stupid, so editors and noneditors alike break them, contra the dictionary and contra Lori effing Fradkin, as my copy chief called her in our style guide.
We disregard those rules because no matter whom we’re speaking to, our audience comprises actual human beings. To communicate naturally and well, we ought to shake ourselves of pretentious “standards” and simply make language accessible.
It’s the jobs of the gatekeepers of written English (another awful term that needs to die) to break stupid rules and introduce neologisms into the lexicon. The only way dictionaries can avoid looking like tired old relics — as opposed to actual things people use — is by staying ahead of the curve.
“That uniqueness as a species should be celebrated, welcomed and championed even if, on a certain level, the words being folded into history embarrass us,” my old colleague James Furbish wrote about “OMG.” I couldn’t agree more.
Love it. Love the slang. Write it in Baskerville if you simply must be taken seriously. Or be a douchebag (sorry, “douche bag”). Your call.