Well, the last great American institution has finally fallen: I’m talking, of course, about the once great Oxford English Dictionary. You know the one – the scrupulous gatekeeper of the noble and cherished English language.
I don’t know if you’ve been following the new word additions to the OED recently, but, if not, you might find them as disturbing as I do. If you have periodically checked out the new words that get that dictionary’s stamp of approval – as I do – you no doubt realized very quickly that the esteemed and authoritative publication has completely flushed its standards down the drain.
Because, these days, they will let any word into the once elite club known as the English language.
I’m not saying the OED is alone in tossing standards out the window. It is, of course, happening all around us in every aspect of life.
Let me give you an example. A few years ago, I was talking to a Harris Teeter manager and I guess she was very impressed with me because she took me aside and invited me to apply to become one of the store’s “Very Important Customers.” I was extremely honored that they’d decided I might qualify, and I was even more pleased when I mailed in my application and, after two weeks of anxious anticipation, I got word that I had been accepted into the exclusive club. Since then, to keep me happy, they’ve given me all sorts of special deals that normal people can’t get.
After I was admitted into the store’s insiders club, sometimes while waiting in line to pay I would glance to see who else has a membership card. Whenever I noticed a fellow member, I would subtlety flash my card, give and them a knowing nod that I had been accepted as well. However, based on what I’ve seen lately, I have a lot of concerns about the type of people they have been letting into the club these days. Some of those who have made it in, quite frankly, seem very sketchy to me.
But here’s the thing: It’s one thing for a grocery store chain to let their standards slip – it’s another thing entirely when it’s a revered and proudly stodgy institution like the OED that lets theirs fall by the wayside. Note that I’m not even talking about some namby-pamby fly by night NEW revised AMERICAN dictionary; this is the Oxford English Dictionary that’s suddenly letting in any string of letters pretending to be a new word.
When I was a kid, the dictionary was the arbitrator of what counted as a legitimate word and what did not. You could use any words in there and, if it wasn’t in there, you couldn’t use it. Even if you used a word your teacher didn’t like, you could say, “Oh Miss Summers, it’s OK – it’s in the dictionary” and then show it to her and that was considered a good defense that set your teacher on her heels.
But you can’t use that rule anymore, because the dictionary people, just like the Harris Teeter people, have lately left the club doors unlocked and wide open with no one standing guard.
In fact, in the September 2016 additions to the OED, you wouldn’t believe the word they added. The word – and three other variants of it – all made it in even though it is dirty, dirty, dirty. Yes, it is something that people do – but they should not be doing it, and they certainly shouldn’t be allowed to have an official word in a respectable dictionary that allows them to talk about it freely – perhaps even in mixed company.
(And no, I most certainly, cannot even hint at what the word is in a family-friendly publication such as this one.)
But, trust me – it is not a word that belongs in the dictionary. Nevertheless, you can now find it in the trusty old OED.
And it’s not just the immoral dirty words that the OED is formally welcoming into the language these days – it’s also admitting words that denote acts and items that have no business having their own word.
Here’s one, for example…
Biffy. A couple of months ago, the OED added “Biffy.” Now, do you know what that means? Neither did I, because it’s not really a word, but according to the OED it’s “Canadian slang for a toilet.”
Listen, you don’t need that word: A. It sounds stupid, and, B. Why can’t you just use the word “toilet,” which is a perfectly good word? I’ve been to Canada and it’s not like there’s anything special about Canadian toilets. I think that north of the border when you flush them the swirl goes in the opposite direction than it does here, but that’s certainly nothing worthy of giving Canadian toilets they’re own official new word. In the end, a biffy is just a toilet with some polar bears and seals nearby.
(The OED also, by the way, recently added “crapper.” Now, I’m a little uncomfortable even using that word in print, but, what the hey, why not – after all, it’s in the dictionary.)
Here’s another one that was added recently: “moobs,” aka “man boobs.” Now, come on; does that really belong in the dictionary? I don’t think so either.
Then there’s “uptalk,” which means “a manner of speaking in which declarative sentences are uttered with rising intonation at the end, a type of intonation more typically associated with questions.”
What? Huh? Since when do we need a word for that? I’ve been asking questions my whole life without needing a word for the rise in pitch in my voice when I do. The next thing you know, they’ll have a word for the small plastic tip on the ends of your shoelaces that helps you put them through the hole.
The OED recently added “Pasalubong,” a word of Filipina origin that means, “any gift or souvenir brought for family or friends after being away for a period of time.”
But we already have a word for that: it’s called a gift.
If you tell me you got me a couple of gifts while you were on vacation then I’ll be happy and say “Thank you,” but if you tell me you want to give me the pasalubongs you got in the Philippines, I’m going to get as far away from you as I can.
Or how about this recent OED addition: Twinch, a noun. Do you know what a “twinch” is?” It’s “the movement a dog makes with its head when it hears a high-pitched noise.” And then there’s “Laminites,” which is the new word for the people in the pictures that come in a new wallet or picture frame. One of the newest words is “Animalanche,” the word for “when you kick your stuffed animals in your sleep and they fall all over you or the floor.”
OK, those last three aren’t really from the OED; they’re actually Sniglets – the created words made popular by comedian Rich Hall on the 1980s HBO comedy series Not Necessarily the News.
But that’s my whole point: Many of the words being let into the OED are so crazy now that they are utterly indistinguishable from Sniglets. Think about it; “twinch” is a Sniglet, but Squee is a word that actually is a recent addition to the OED. Squee means, “a high-pitched squealing or squeaking sound produced by an animal, musical instrument, etc.”
So, if squee made it in, why in the world shouldn’t we throw “twinch” in there as well? What’s the difference?
While I was preparing to write this column, I made some notes on new OED words as well as on Sniglets from the ’80s and I got them mixed up and now I can’t even remember which ones are Sniglets and which ones are OED words. Take “Aquadextrous” for instance, an adjective that means “Possessing the ability to turn the bathtub faucet on and off with your toes.” Is that a real new word or a forgotten Sniglet from the 1980s? Your guess is as good as mine.
“Yarn bombing” – a type of “graffiti or street art that employs colorful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn rather than paint or chalk.” Could be either.
The same goes for Bevemeter – “the distance a coaster will stick to the bottom of a wet glass before falling to the table.” Who knows? I’ve given up even trying to guess – but it doesn’t matter because these days, apparently, when it comes to words, anything goes.