You’ve probably heard that a bunch of new words have been added to the Oxford dictionary. Phablet. Unlike. Buzzworthy. Selfie. Twerk. Cakepop.
If you haven’t heard, you must not suffer from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), also just added. What puzzles me is, why you would be looking up any of those words in a dictionary?
You don’t know what “twerk” means? Oxford’s definition, “dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance,” isn’t that big of a help. You’d be better off looking it up on YouTube rather than in a dictionary.
How long before the language mavens wrestle “email” to the ground? The word is in most dictionaries. But they are still fighting over whether it should be “email” or “e-mail.” Considering that one of their main jobs is to help us spell words correctly, that seems a bit of a bobble.
“Internet” is also in the dictionary now, but it’s capitalized. Why? That seems very silly. I’d keep it lowercase. It’d be like capitalizing the word “phone.” Srsly? That’s also one of the new words. As you’ve no doubt figured out, it means “seriously.”
Which brings up the question, do they ever take words out of the dictionary? Groovy. Gofer. Bummer. Fuzz. Hooch. Fab. Moll. Dawg. Phat. Schwing. Wassup. Yadda yadda yadda. Or do they stay in there forever?
The answer, I found out, is no, the Oxford English Dictionary never removes words once they make it in. Which you would know if you owned one, but very few people do.
The 20 volumes of the printed version cost more than $1,000 on Oxford’s website (and almost $7,000 in a deluxe, blue leather binding).
There is a cheaper, miniature edition printed in tiny text, which comes with its own handy magnifying glass. The online version costs only $300 – a year. But these new words that make the news each year are just added to the ODO, the Oxford Dictionary Online. They may one day make it into the OED version, but they haven’t yet.
The great thing is that an online dictionary could have a video link to “twerk” for free, or a 1,001 other things that are very hard to explain. It wasn’t so long ago that saying something was “bad” meant it was good. Did that ever go in the dictionary? Yes. Did it ever come out? No.
What about words that have slang meanings that are almost past memory? “Heater” was slang for a gun. It’s still in there, but with the note it’s “dated.”
Dictionaries can’t solve all word problems. A guy cut me off in traffic the other day, made an obscene gesture and yelled, “Yo mama!” at me. I looked up “your” and “mama,” but I don’t think that’s what he meant.
• Contact Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.