WUT U Doing OED?

OMG, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is finally making some changes!

With approximately 600,000 words spanning more than 20 volumes, the third edition since 1928 of what Guinness World Records declares the longest official dictionary has been released. Some critics are a little piqued over a handful of the 900 additions the lexicographers working in New York and Oxford have decided to make, though. Among those to make the cut are OMG, FYI and LOL. For real.

Many critics sigh longingly for the English language of days past, claiming that if such an elite institution as the OED is willing to acknowledge LOL officially, something must be really wrong with the direction in which it’s headed.

These guys should consider, though, that the OED might be trying to vamp its image up by including this widespread Internet lingo. The institution has received a great deal of criticism in the past for focusing on words and language almost exclusively printed by official, reputable sources, which often leaves out perfectly relevant contemporary language. With that in mind, I’d say that not including these acronyms could be considered irresponsible.

IMHO, it seems that many of these modern critics are holding too tightly onto the separation of virtual activity from their real lives. At this point, the two are so interconnected that overlap is impossible to avoid.

While separate dictionaries are often dedicated to specialized language and jargon, as many argue OMG, LOL and FYI are in their nearly exclusive application to text-based communications, the Web is so ingrained in our everyday lives that the OED just can’t ignore the importance these words have in modern communication anymore.

Just because it’s frowned upon to use FYI or LOL in an email to employers or professors doesn’t make them less valid means of expression. Common colloquialisms and slang have never been completely excluded from the dictionary, and the flak the OED has received for attempting to avoid Internet-based terms in the past might have something to do with this sudden inclusion.

The fact that these words are less elegant than any of the thousands invented between Shakespeare and Chaucer shouldn’t influence the decision to include them.

The thing about words is that they are transient. Definitions are far from permanent and are always in a state of change. As lexicographers, the people working at OED have a big responsibility, but it isn’t their job to change the meaning of anyone’s words or tell them which they should choose to use. They merely reflect the change in the meaning of these words over time. This is especially true of those at the OED, which never removes any word or definition from its editions.

The OED leaves antiquated words in print regardless of their disuse or the manifestation of a new, contemporary usage. New definitions are continually added to those with older meanings, and brand-new words that gain prominence for a period of time have the opportunity to get added to future additions of the dictionary.

It isn’t as if inventing words is unheard of. People should realize that they have limitless combinations of sounds at their disposal with which to express themselves, and these combinations certainly don’t have to be in the dictionary to make sense. It bugs my mom, but I have taken to using “thesising” to describe – well – working on my thesis.

My word probably won’t make it into the dictionary any time soon, but when others become as common and leave as lasting an impression as OMG, FYI or LOL, it is the OED’s responsibility to see that they get a nod for their influence with their very own entries.

Even “heart” is getting a definition added to it. OED is including its use as a verb, as in “I heart all of my New U readers,” in this new edition, and it really isn’t as silly as it sounds. The colloquial use of “heart” as a verb is rooted all the way back in the ninth century, when English didn’t even look like English.

The acronyms aren’t being added out of the blue either. FYI dates back to 1941 war-time letters describing espionage, and OMG is even older, documented first in letters sent in 1917. Of those on the list, LOL has actually seen some evolution. In the 1960s and 70s the acronym referred to “little old ladies” but since the 1990s, has been used almost exclusively to emote laughter online and in text messages.

Hopeless romantic that I am, I would love to revert to Shakespeare’s English, but I believe language reflects lifestyle. Refusing to recognize linguistic trends and changes over times is refusing to recognize the technological advances that make this age great. So embrace the change! If you slip and use OMG in an email to a professor though, don’t blame the dictionary on your lost sense of decorum.

Ariana Santoro is a fourth-year physics and political science double major. She can be reached at asantoro@uci.edu.