OMG, What's Happened to the OED?
The latest update to the Oxford English Dictionary has attracted a flurry of media interest, though much of the coverage has been misleading or downright inaccurate. We take a look at some of the more reasoned reactions to the inclusion of such new items as OMG, LOL, and heart (as a transitive verb, not as a symbol).
ABC News, "OMG! The OED [Hearts] A Few New Words"
OMG, the Oxford English Dictionary has announced its latest updates!
The authoritative reference book -- the final word on words -- has announced that it has updated its online edition with 1,900 revisions and adds from across the dictionary. New additions include such digitally-driven abbreviations such as OMG -- Internet shorthand for "Oh my God'" or "Oh my Gosh" -- LOL, "laughing out loud"; IMHO "in my humble opinion"; and BFF, "best friends forever."
One might be tempted to exclaim WTF? (And if you don't know what that stands for, you can look it up: it was included in the 2009 updates.)
"Technology has been one of the biggest drivers of new vocabulary for centuries," Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large for the O.E.D., told ABC News.
"The proportion of words that entered the English language from 1750 to 1760 is almost exactly the same as words that entered the language from 1950 to 1960," he added. "You look around and you have new laptops and new cell phones today. One hundred fifty years ago we had new trains and new steam engines."
Also included in the updates is a new usage of an old word: heart. Taken from the symbol <3, to "heart" something is to love it. (Suggested usage: "I heart the fact that this is in the O.E.D.") The symbol itself, however, did not make it into the dictionary, as reported elsewhere.
On Thursday, teenagers around the world discovered that they weren't, like, the first generation to use OMG. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, which listed the acronym among its newest crop of word additions, that distinction goes to British Navy Admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher. In 1917, Fisher wrote this sentence in a letter: "I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis—O.M.G.(Oh! My God!)—Shower it on the Admiralty!" He sent the letter to Winston Churchill.
Other additions this quarter include muffin top, which was first referenced as a baked good in 1914 and as the flesh roll that hangs over a waistband in 2003. The OED team has also admitted LOL, which first appeared in an electronic archive circa 1990, and a new sense for the word heart: "to love" (as in "I heart Slate"), which was first seen in print in a 1983 Associated Press article. (Some news outlets misreported that the ♥ symbol itself was being added to the OED.)
So how did these words snag a spot in the famous dictionary?
They matched a few key criteria. In order for a word to be chosen, it must be in widespread, frequent use. The general population should understand it. (Yes, you might need to explain LOL to your grandma. But most people have a sense of what it means). Since the OED doesn't simply define a word, but records its entire usage history, a word must also have a substantive lifespan before it wins a coveted entry. "We are quite cautious about including things," says Graeme Diamond, the principal editor of the New Words Group in the OED. "We want a word to have led a bit of a life before we write its biography."
John McIntyre, "Yes, It's in the Dictionary. Now Pipe Down"
I share the disdain of my colleague Brian White expressed in his post at Talk Wordy to Me, “Please stop whining about the OED’s new words.” He is referring to the commotion over the recent addition to the Oxford English Dictionary of LOL, OMG, and other neologisms that have become widely current, and he is particularly exercised by a Washington Post op-ed piece accusing the Oxford lexicographers of a ludicrous attempt to be hip.
You may be astonished that a newspaper would publish a humorous essay that is not funny, expressing opinion that is not informed, but I’m concerned with something broader than that feeble effort. Why is it that people do not understand what dictionaries are for?
The OED in particular describes itself as a dictionary on historical principles. It attempts to establish the pedigree and descent through generations of every word it lists. And so it is full of words that had their day but are no longer written and uttered. You can find brabble there, a word meaning to quarrel noisily about trifles. It lost out to squabble a long time back. Because it is such an enormous word-hoard, it will be consulted for decades, perhaps centuries, by scholars and by readers who are puzzled by obscure words. Someday, someone reading texts from the early twenty-first century will not know what OMG means, and the OED will be there.
Johnson (The Economist), "Have You No ♥?"
Most of the attention about the Oxford English Dictionary's recent additions have focused on the internet initialisms that they chose: LOL, OMG and the like. This is such non-news I wasn't even going to blog it, the responses were so predictable: grouches calling it embarrassing, dictionary-makers and descriptivists saying that this is exactly what dictionaries are for. This script was written at least as long ago as 1961, when Webster's Third included "ain't", and yet people never tire of it. Maybe it's just a comfort thing. Points go to Alexandra Petri at the Washington Post for at least trying to say something new: "It's like Yoda trying to sext you." Unfortunately, Ms Petri's wrong on the facts: "The Oxford English Dictionary...is supposed to have dignity." No, it's supposed to collect the words people use, and publish them with their definitions and histories. This is why it includes just about every rude and ugly word you can think of and some you can't. I just tried to stump it with some highly filthy slang terms I wasn't sure the OED people had gotten round to. It turns out they have.
And if you want the story straight from the horse's mouth, here is a video with OED Chief Editor John Simpson and Senior Editor Fiona McPherson explaining the latest updates.