A Compendium of Linguistic Failure: Dictionaries Losing It
One of the most horrific things I heard at university was linguistics tutor spouting the idea that we need to embrace changes to our language as though it is an evolution. We should see words like ‘LOL’ (not a word) or ‘LMFAO’ (not a word) not as hideous abortions of taste, but as a reflection of cultural change as we begin to broaden our vocabulary to describe our experience. In theory, this sounds all very nice – we’re getting more inventive with objects, so perhaps we should be so with words – but then you hit a word like ‘pwn’, which is based upon a spelling error, and it all becomes a little too dirty and a little too real. And there is nothing
in any linguistic theory book that can excuse the title of the Black Eyed Peas song ‘I Gotta Feeling
This song name typifies everything that is wrong with the way people are using language now. I can only assume they meant to call it ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’ rather than using the accepted form of ‘gotta’, which would make their song title ‘I Got To Feeling’. This latter and correct expansion of the song title not only makes no sense but also increases my personal hatred of both English and ‘music’ by roughly 7,000%.
‘But, Felice,’ I hear you say. ‘Without linguistic playfulness, we wouldn’t have words like ‘besmirched’, ‘accused’, and ‘lackluster’.’ To which I respond that the Black Eyed Peas did not name their song ‘I Got To Feeling’ because they wanted to describe something extraordinary and needed to invent a new phrase. They did it because dictionaries accept any old rubbish, and no-one cares about precision in meaning or expression anymore.
Welcome to 2013, where words accepted
into the Oxford English Dictionary now include:
- mwahahaha, exclamation: used to represent laughter, esp. manic or cackling laughter such as that uttered by a villainous character in a cartoon or comic strip. [this is about as much a word as I am an Olympian, ie: not even a little bit.]
- ridic, adj.: ridiculous (abbrev.). [could equally be an abbrev. for ridicule, though, couldn’t it?]
- lolz, pl. n.: fun, laughter, or amusement. [when ‘lol’ isn’t descriptive enough]
Later this year look out for ‘vomatorium
‘ and ‘obvs
‘, because obviously my autocorrect is more discerning than these jokers. Maybe they could throw in ‘fungasm
In their desire to keep pace with Urban Dictionary and not look like foosty old bozos, dictionaries have opened their doors to the masses. But, as any person who takes the tube knows, more stuff generally means more bad stuff. The germs of zeitgeist have infected the archaic institution I like to call ‘standards’ and is wreaking havoc.
I know that pointing out the failings of language gatekeepers won’t fix the problem, but you can actually make a difference.
Instead of vowing the change the publishing industry or save bookshops, this year I urge you to make a new year’s resolution you can keep – resolve to think before you speak or type, and use words and phrases that make sense in the situation. Be precise in your meaning, put punctuation in the place where it goes, and don’t cut corners. Because if we save publishing and allow phrases like ‘I Gotta Feeling’ to successfully masquerade as sensical, we might as well throw all our beloved books on a bonfire and light the match now.
black eyed peas, dictionaries, grammar
Felice Howden had opinions before she knew what the word 'opinion' meant. She wrote for the publishing and ideas blog Socratic Ignorance Is Bliss, and has had short stories published around the place. She graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2008 with a degree in English and Philosophy, and now spends her time typing code and hatching brain eggs for the future of publishing in a major publishing house.