‘Butt-Dial’, ‘Beer O’Clock’ And More: Pop Words Making Their Way To The Dictionary

Posted on September 3, 2015 in Culture-Vulture

By Vaagisha Das

Spydere man spydere man
Doth al things a spydere kan
Sondry webbes he kan weaven
Thieves lyke flyes he kan cacchen
Lo anon comth spydere man.

The above is what the theme song of Spiderman would have looked like if it were written in Middle English, as tweeted by a popular user Chaucer Doth Tweet. And this is still what it would’ve sounded like if grammar and language were as rigid and inflexible as they are currently – to test this theory, try making an ‘accidental’  typo on the internet, and let the drama unfold.

shakespeare word invent
Our language has been constantly evolving for ages-we can see it changing before our very eyes. Out of the need to express ourselves better or simply to make people better understand what something means, we have coined words like ‘selfie’ and ‘butt dial’, none of which would fit into our conventional use of the English language. But strangely enough, what we would call convention is in itself a series of made up events: did you know Shakespeare first used the word ‘swagger’ in A Midsummer Night’s Dream? True, he meant it to be used very differently than it is in our present context, but now you know who is responsible for the desi ‘swag’ that we’ve been hearing about for days on end.

But keeping aside the inevitable wrath of English teachers and our friends the Grammar Nazis, creating new phrases is one of the best ways to be creative in a world where the dictionary reigns supreme. True, for a new word to be used there must be an objective to it- the already existing language must be ill fulfilling the need for its apt nomenclature. Using words from another language, converting a verb into a noun and vice versa or making up witty mashups can be just one of the few ways in which you can rebel against the language itself. Once upon a time, invaders used to impose one single language – their language – upon the entire territories that they invaded. Certainly enough, it made things a lot easier, but it also made a lot of things disappear: if we spoke in all English, all of the time, would we be able to distinguish the Delhi ‘chaudh‘ from the Bihari ‘aukaat‘? Hence the evolution of Hinglish- when you cannot decide which way to go, pick the best of both wor(l)ds.

And well, the dictionary is no longer the Bible in a world where some words are being used so often that it’s impossible to not incorporate them formally into the books- the Oxford Dictionary has added the words ‘manspreading‘ – when a man encroaches on neighbouring seats on a bus by taking up too much space – as well as words like wine o’clock and beer o’clock, which are pretty self-explanatory. The things that we watch and read have had their fair share of linguistic attention as well: Muggle – that refers to a non-magical person or one with no skills, as used formally, is now an official word, as well as ‘ego surfing‘- yes, the narcissistic self googlers now have a word to call their very own.

The Oxford English Dictionary is constantly updating, adding new words to reflect the vibrant changes in language and culture – for better or for worse. And as Shakespeare would’ve said, it is high time (Henry V) that we accept it.

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