Tuesday, April 11, 2017
by Kelly Duggan

Dictionary newbies and extinction risks

The English language is constantly evolving, and new words are added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) every year; this March, OED announced that more than 500 new words, phrases and senses had been added – and that’s just in the first quarter of 2017.

As a copywriter, I find these updates really interesting, with some new words bringing a fun, new approach to language like ‘pogonophobia’ (an extreme dislike of beards), and some that don’t make much sense to me, such as ‘hate-watch’. It’s a new verb that means ‘to watch in a spirit of mockery, as a form of entertainment’ – reality TV shows spring to mind. But is hate too strong a term? And do we really need a verb to describe something so specific?

Another new verb is ‘skitch’ – although it was recorded in a 1953 novel, it has only just been added to the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s a slang term that refers to holding on to the back of a moving vehicle and being pulled along, blending ‘skate’ with ‘hitch’.

Genericide (noun) was also added this spring but has been used since 1972. It’s where a brand name loses its unique identity by being used generically. This may at first seem like a marketing triumph, but it can actually cause difficulties for trademark owners seeking to defend their registrations. Examples of this are Sellotape, which many know as the name for any brand of clear adhesive tape (although it’s really only one brand of tape!), and Jet Ski, the brand name of a personal watercraft manufactured by Kawasaki!

I’m always on the lookout for new words to include in my copy, which means that your advertising campaigns from Denfield are always fresh and unique – but where do these new words come from? Some have been used informally for many years and have finally been adopted as official language, and others are newly coined terms that are commonly used and adopted straight away. Some of it seems to stem from laziness – or rather efficiency – creating one new word to explain exactly what you mean instead of having to describe it in a sentence or two.

Showrooming is a good example of this, added to the dictionary in the last couple of years – it means browsing in a shop and finding an item that you want, then going home and ordering it online for a lower price.

With more than 600,000 words collected by OED over a thousand years, we do need to add new words to keep our language fresh and current – if we didn’t, we would never have had literary pioneers like Chaucer or Shakespeare. But will the addition of new words be at the cost of other words that will maybe lose their prevalence in modern society, such as snollygoster, ergophobia and groke? Well, I’ve never slotted one of those gems into conversation, have you?

And how often do you say once? Twice? Or more importantly, thrice? Well, this adverb seems to have died a death, a seemingly dated term that has been replaced with the longer ‘three times’. My only concern is what strange words will creep into the dictionary next? Are we just creating new words to make it look like we’re evolving? I mean, innit’s already in it!