English gets bigger
Retweet, sexting among words recently added to English dictionary
For those students who struggle to understand the differences between formal and informal English, essays and papers will soon become easier to write thanks to some new additions to the English dictionary.
Recently added words include cyberbullying, retweet, bromance, and sexting, and some professors are willing to accept them in essay.
Professor Susan Johnston of the English department said she has no problem accepting these new additions to the dictionary, as long as they’re used properly.
“The whole question of the vocabulary of the essay is: is the language of the essay appropriate to the mode and subject matter of the essay? And is it being used correctly?” she said.
For those who don’t speak in literary terms, that means don’t throw “bromance” in the middle of your very formal paper on metaphors in a Tennyson poem.
Cameron Louis, a linguistics professor in the Faculty of Arts, agrees with this attitude, adding, “If you have support for the word, and you can say it’s in the dictionary and people are using it, that’s OK.
“Dictionaries are not books that are meant to legislate what is good English and what is bad English. Dictionaries are there to record meanings of words so that if people encounter them, they can know what they mean.”
Johnston has a different idea of what the dictionary’s function is.
“Dictionaries are word museums in a way; they are a record of the history of the language, but they are also a living history of the language,” she said.
Johnston acknowledged the fluidity of language and she insisted her students are aware of the history of their vocabulary.
While the two professors have differing opinions on the function of the dictionary, both agree on the reason new words are added. Johnston said, “If we have perfectly good words for things, then we don’t need a new one.”
“It’s a sign of a technological change,” Louis said. “Sometimes we need a new vocabulary. When it comes to a new technology, you need to invent a name for it. It might not be a need, sometimes it’s just a search for novelty.” He described works like machinery; if there is a void, a new invention can fill it.
Johnston suggested that a lot of vocabulary created is in response to changes in society, when there are “watershed transformations.” As an example, Johnston referenced the phrase “knock you up,” which currently means to make someone pregnant. She pointed out it used to mean to wake someone up, as lamp lighters would knock on people’s windows to wake them up.
“It was introduced during the switch to factory work, when you would have to be awake and reporting to someone at an exact time,” she said.
This phrase was created due to the industrial revolution, while new words and phrases added now reflect the technological revolution we are living through.
While the creation of a new terminology is a good sign of change, Johnston gave a warning regarding the loss of archaic vocabulary.
“Most synonyms don’t lay perfectly down on top of eachother,” she said, “You are saying something different with each word. It is important than we are able to remember older words so that we can always choose the right word.”
Some of the newer words being added can be written off as “celebrity coinage,” as Johnston calls it, or as useless words that don’t fill any void.
However, Louis and Johnston both insist on the importance of other phrases such as cyberbullying.
“I think cyberbulling is a very good term,” he said. “Until the invention of social networking, there was no such thing as cyberbullying, but I gather it’s a huge problem. We really need a concept and a word so people can really talk about it.”