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Oxford Dictionary’s new words — Keeping up with the times


Be quiet for a moment.

You hear that faint yet frantic tapping? That, my friends, is the sound of the world’s youth smsing, tweeting, Mxit-ing & Facebooking each other or, as most like to think of it, the sound of barbarians chipping away at the walls of Rome.

This chipping has become a rumble as a weak spot has been found in the English language’s defences. In a move by the Oxford English Dictionary’s (OED) turncoat announcement of last week, the Dictionary welcomed OMG, LOL and FYI into its most recent online edition. This apparent betrayal has resulted in much consternation online.

On Twitter, “OMG”, “LOL”, and “FYI”, along with “Oxford English Dictionary,” have become dominant topics of discussion – fittingly enough, as it is on this very social network more than any other that one is likely to find these abbreviations (largely thanks to fans of stars like Justin Bieber fighting to fit within the 140-character limit).

This general opinion was summarised by comedian David Schneider when he tweeted, “I hate abbreviations. I never use them and am appalled that LOL, OMG and FYI have made it into the OED.”

One can never really say what will make something go viral, be it a video of a spoiled rich girl, autotuned to the gills and monotoning her way through an ode to a day of the week, or (as in this case) a piece of news. Regardless of the reason for it, the fact that everyone now knows about this new linguistic modification has many protectors of the English language outraged.

They should have seen this coming though, especially following the recent modification of Oxford’s definition of the word “like” to include “convey[ing] a person’s reported attitude or feelings in the form of direct speech […] So she comes into the room and she’s like, ‘Where is everybody?’” Anyone who has ever heard teenagers speaking to each other knows that, after 10mins of this like-infused babble, a life without conversation becomes pretty appetising.

Another irony is that, as much as we view the OED as the authority on the English language, the Dictionary has never sought to be that. It merely seeks to define all meanings of a word, both historical and present-day. The by-lines on its website say it all: it claims to be “the definitive record of the English language” and invites users to “discover the story of English”.

Buried within the language we speak is its history. The inclusion of these initialisms only carries on that tradition. The internet has fundamentally changed the path of humanity, and to no lesser degree, so has the mobile phone.

Just as the addition of “unfriend” to the OED (a debateable choice, many argued) recognised the cultural watershed that is Facebook, so the addition of LOL, FYI and OMG bring with them a deeper cultural context. Good or bad, they prove what an indelible mark ‘textspeak’ carried over from the chat rooms of old into the social media of the present day.

English doesn’t belong to any one group, which is precisely what makes it so successful a language: wherever it goes it not only affects the culture, but in turn is itself affected. Therefore, as much as many of us may harbour disdain for people who are constantly LOLing, FYIing and OMGing, we must remember that they’re not that far apart from us; in fact, they are us.

As users, and perhaps even as lovers of the internet and mobile phones, maybe we shouldn’t be catcalling the Oxford English Dictionary for making these additions, but rather should be applauding them for keeping current and changing with the times.

Author | Mvelase Peppetta

Mvelase Peppetta
Mvelase is a Senior Account Manager at Irvine Bartlett one of the most sought after full service public relations companies in South Africa. Mvelase is passionate about all things digital and the social media landscape, particularly as it relates to the integration of digital public relations management within the traditional... More
  • Hugh

    Many of us have old dictionaries – they seem to be kep forever. Small wonder that such people say “ther’s no such word” afteconsulting a thirty year old dictionary

  • Yep, I used my trusty 1992 edition of the Pocket OED to check whether ‘like’ had always been defined like that. Suffice to say, it hadn’t.

  • That’s right, the OED is just doing its job by including ‘LOL’ and other initialisms. At the same time, though, the self-appointed protectors of the language have to do their jobs: see http://unprovokeddigression.com/2011/02/the-world-is-crumbling-lol/ for superior alternatives to ‘LOL’.