Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Slang, Now and Then

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Slang, Now and Then

Article excerpt

When Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO) released its quarterly list of new words in August, online commenters and columnists alike expressed fear for the future of the English language and, by extension, their hope in humanity overall.

In a column titled "Oxford Dictionaries adds twerk, FOMO, selfie and other words that make me vom," Washington Post columnist Michael Dirda, opines, "Like so much digital terminology, many of these new words are ugly."

Even some younger commenters expressed disapproval. On an OxfordWords blog titled "Buzzworthy words added to Oxford Dictionaries Online -- squee!" commenter "Alexis" lamented, "Really, is it necessary to use srsly instead of actually saying the word? Coming from an 18-year-old, this makes me lose all hope in my generation."

Many of these fears are understandable. With the addition of words like MOOC, srsly, hackerspace and emoji, it is no surprise that concern over the omnipresence of tech in our daily lives and vocabularies, and laziness as manifest in inelegant abbreviations are common reactions.

The question is really whether this new lingo is somehow more detrimental to "formal" English than the new lingo of previous generations.

I would argue that in general, today's newest words are just as crass, silly and wonderful as ever. I've actually found myself wishing that the Oxford Dictionaries Online were more comprehensive in their inclusion of informal terminology. After all, there's a whole history of explicit dances, crude insults and creative synonyms for words like drunk, attractive and stupid that the ODO totally ignores.

To prove this point, let's look at a bit of Francis Grose's "A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue." The 1811 version of this slang dictionary is available for free online, providing insight into the crudeness of the past.

* Balum Rancum: A hop or dance, where the women are all prostitutes. The company dance in their birthday suits. Hey look, twerking isn't the first questionable dance trend. …

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