As society evolves, so does language. And where better to track the changes than the dictionary. This month, Oxford University Press publishes a centenary edition in the form of the 12th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary.
The growth of social media has spawned a whole new vocabulary and some of the dictionary’s new entries, such as cyberbullying, textspeak, sexting and retweet, have come from that domain. According to Angus Stevenson, editor of the latest edition, they also added a new meaning to the word ‘friend’ to explain its use in social media. I notice that ‘defriend’ can be found in the OUP’s online dictionary, where it is listed as another term for ‘unfriend’. Is that the opposite of ‘befriend’? Nowadays ‘friend’ is often used as a verb, such as “I’ll friend you on Facebook”. During a recent email spat my older daughter threatened to ‘demother’ me, and I realise now that I should have retorted that there have been many occasions that I wished to ‘dedaugther’ her!
I was particularly interested to see that ‘textspeak’ has been added. Three of the people we interviewed in our “English at Work” blog series stated they found textspeak really annoying. (I notice as I type this in Word, it is underlined in red, so I guess Microsoft also has to update its Word software package every time new words enter the dictionary). As festival director Kadi Hughes said in her interview, “Honestly, the time you save writing “u” instead of “you” is nothing compared to the pain it gives my eyes.” I have to agree with her and I think that textspeak used out of the text environment is even worse.
On arriving at the airport in Shenzhen for a recent interpreting job at the 26th Summer Universiade (a word coined from University + Olympiade) I was horrified to see several huge billboards that used textspeak. One was “Nice 2 meet u” and the other “U r welcome”. I subsequently discovered that the university games mascot is called UU so I guess I mustn’t be too harsh on their use of ‘u’ in this case.
Do you have any examples of textspeak creeping out of its domain? Are there any other words that you think should have entered the dictionary?