Oxford English-ish Dictionary

5 September, 2005 at 5:17 pm (library)

I understand that the Oxford English Dictionary does not consider itself to be a prescriptive dictionary. Their mission, to chronicle the important textual usage of words and how that contributes to a wealth of connotation, is a noble one and it provides an invaluable resource. However, the massive undertaking that used to be involved in the updating of a dictionary always made it a prescriptive tool, regardless of its intent. By detailing usage, the OED codified it and validated it, because people treat any dictionary as a usage guide, as opposed to a usage catalogue.

And now that chronicling usage has become simpler, words that are not so much “words” as they are sloppy reductions and adaptations of of established morphemes are being included in the Online Oxford English Dictionary. People worry about the effect instant messaging will have upon communication and upon the writing skills of the current generation of students. Worry more about the student that points with a stylus at the screen of a wireless ThinkPad and says, “Screw ‘formal writing’, granddad… Your precious OED says its a word right there. And if the OED lists it as a word, you can’t mark it wrong on my paper!”

Don’t get me wrong, I think a dictionary should enumerate slang, I just think it should be clearly marked as such. If you’re going to integrate entries, I at least want obvious indications of some sort of verbal caste system.

Usually there’s a minor media kerfuffle about new words included in the dictionary, but updated entries for an online dictionaries — even the OED — must be small potatoes these days when the New York Times (which, I feel I should point out, snooty word freaks would tell one should be properly called the “New York Times“, regardless of what appears on the banner) uses the opening sentence “When you sculpture heads…” instead of “sculpt heads”. Or perhaps I’m off base. Anyway, when the Times can’t be counted upon to fact-check stories, uphold its position as the fifth estate, or even maintain the standardization of the English language, then the following excerpted list shouldn’t seem too surprising:

The following completely new entries were added to OED Online on 9 June 2005:
abdominizer, n.
alley-oop, adv., int., a., and n.
arsey, a.
beered-up, a.
bogart, v.
boyf, n.
brown dwarf, n.
buttlegger, n.
buttlegging, n.
carb, n.2
clip art, n.
conspiracism, n.
co-pay, n.
dagnabbit, int.
deconflict, v.
dequeue, v.
derivatization, n.
derivatize, v.
derivatized, a.
dickwad, n.
disconnect, n.
downwinder, n.
dumpster-dive, v.
emo, n.
emo-core, n.
ergogenic, a.
fabbo, a. (and int.)
filmize, v.
FOAF, n.
foo fighter, n.
fubar, v.
girlf, n.
grammatology, n.
he-said-she-said, a. and n.
in-box, n. and a.
ka-ching, n. and int.
ka-ching, v.
skank, v.
techno-shaman, n.
tricknology, n.
versioning, n.
vidiot, n.
wuss, n.2
wussy, n. and a.
zombied, a.
zombification, n.
zombified, a.
zombify, v.

For a complete list of changes and updates, download this 12-page PDF (120 KB). It’s an interesting list: very British in places, and some of the new entries seem head-scratchingly late in coming. Why has “tikka masala” been absent all this time? Still, I wish that a great many of the brand-new entries had been included as variations and sub-entries instead of being given the full-word status of having their own little respective (and — to make my point again — inadvertantly prescriptive) articles.

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