Every year the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) adds another bunch of stupid new words to its online dictionary. Every year, the media reports it like there’s nothing else happening anywhere. And every year my blood starts boiling.
Last year’s update brought us such delights as ‘YOLO’, ‘binge-watch’ and ‘adorbs’, not to mention ‘bro hug’, ‘cray’ and ‘SMH’. This year brings us ‘fo’ shizzle’, ‘Twitterati’ and ‘twerking’. Don’t know what this stuff means? Well, I guess that’s what the OED is there for. Go on. Look it up.
Does the adorbs (‘cute or adorable’) team at the OED add these words because it guarantees cray (‘crazy’) column inches in the nation’s broadsheets?
Fo’ shizzle (‘for sure’).
There’s something a little pitiful about one of the English language’s great institutions trying so hard to get down with the kids. It’s not so much ‘dad dancing badly at the disco’, as dad in skinny jeans, plaid shirt and high-top trainers, blaring rap music out of the windows of his sensible estate car as he cruises down the high street. It’s like Gordon Brown mentioning the Arctic Monkeys. Nor should we forget one thing: when text-speak, social media, marketing gibberish and teen slang collide, bad things happen to the English language.
How much damage has the internet done to the poor English language over the past decade? Quite a bit, and social media has only accelerated the wretched process. Phrases spread like wildfire and come without age limits, so that grown men in their 40s are enjoying ‘bro hugs’ and trying to avoid ‘mansplaining’ and other forms of ‘douchebaggery’.
If they’re feeling ‘hench’ they might go on a run then ‘humblebrag’ about how their 15-mile cross-country run played havoc on their knees. After all, YOLO. If not, they might binge-watch a few ‘webisodes’ of House of Cards. Really, it makes me want to weep.
Writing ‘YOLO’ reminds me: can we ban acronyms and abbreviations that sound like stage directions or the text equivalent of audio description for the visually impaired? Are you really laughing out loud when you LOL, and am I to imagine you shaking your head in rage, confusion, disbelief or all three when you SMH? I can already tell that something is IMHO or FYI from the context and the content - you don’t need to spell it out (though I have done, just to be polite).
Admittedly, I sometimes like what happens when geek culture and language get together. Trolling, for instance, seems like the perfect word for the behaviour it describes, linking back not just to the vicious Nordic ogres who like to lurk under bridges, but to the practice of trailing bait around a body of water to pull in fish.
And as far as I’m concerned ‘bloatware’ sums up precisely the sort of useless, space-wasting software you’ll find installed on a new laptop.
All the same, who are we kidding? Some of these phrases will win a permanent place in our vocabulary and culture, but more will prove ephemeral, losing their street cred - if that’s not too dated a concept - almost as soon as they’ve made it to the dictionary.
People who talk about twerking and the Twitterati will one day be looked at with the same sort of disdain that the younger me saved for those who described things as hip or groovy. That’s fine, but shouldn’t the OED be above this kind of stuff? It should stop pandering to the teen-geek language vandals, and let these phrases quietly disappear.