Friday, August 19, 2011


This morning the Technology division of BBC News ran a story that the latest edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary has 400 new words described as “technology-inspired.”  One of these is the celebratory expletive “woot” (with its variant “w00t”).  Editor Angus Stevenson was interviewed on the progressive stance of this reference volume and observed that, thanks to the Internet, new words come into currency much more quickly.  Nevertheless, he chose to lapse into personal opinion when it came to “woot” receiving OED blessing:

I don't know why people can't just say hurrah but maybe I'm being old fashioned.

Well, yes, he is being old-fashioned;  but in a way that the likes of James Murray would never have considered.  Back in the nineteenth century there were only two domains of common usage:  writing and speech.  Today it is not a question of whether people can “just say hurrah” but one of whether they are inclined to text it.  (I am not sure when “text” became sanctioned as a verb, by the way;  but this particular usage appears in the fifth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, much larger than the Concise, which came out in 2002.)  In other words the Internet not only offers a broader channel for currency but also, through the prevalence of texting, may significantly influence which words enter that channel.  Among other things, this had led to an uptick in the legitimization of acronyms and other abbreviations.  (“WTF” made the cut about a year ago, at which time I observed that there were already precedent abbreviations like “snafu.”)  Does this mean that speech, along with writing on the scale of paragraphs rather than tweets, is going out of fashion, not just for influence on the lexicon but also as general media of communication?

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