It’s Dictionary-Official, Guys.

Thank goodness there is something to talk about besides “twerking.”

Oh wait, no, there’s not, because even the good ole’ dictionary is in on the butt-oscillation trend. It was announced yesterday that a bunch of internet-originated terms, including “twerk” of course, have been included in the Oxford Dictionary Online.

Twerk it.

Cue massive moaning and gnashing of teeth and cries about how the world is probably coming to an end, or worse, English is so over.

There’s a whole crop of “new” words that have been officially recognized by an official-sounding dictionary linked to an actually official dictionary; you can read the whole list here.

(But you probably won’t; it’s TL:DR. Oh well).

And, as always happens when dictionaries do this, people freaked out, because there’s a fundamental misunderstanding about the point of dictionaries and the validity of language.

Here’s the truth: Putting a word in a dictionary does not make it “official.” It does not make a word acceptable to use in all cases, and it doesn’t mean it’s more or less legitimate than other words people use. It just means it is a word that has reached an arbitrary threshold of use in pop culture and someone thought maybe you’d benefit from having a definition to help you in the event that you run into it in the wild and don’t know what someone is saying.

That’s it! That’s all it means!

As for appropriateness, you should use whatever words you need to in order to tell your story. If that means inventive, morphine-induced Jabberwockys–power forward, friend! If that means a carefully culled vocabulary from your Scrabble dictionary? Blessings be upon you. One of my favorite books of all time progressively eliminates letters, making it amazing and a challenge I can’t wrap my head around. And that’s great!

As an editor and a reader, I might flag something that I don’t think fits or makes sense, but I’ll never tell anyone they can’t use a word if they want to, dictionary-approved or not. Go ahead! Have a ball!

Actually, I think the Oxford Dictionary Online deserves props for lighting the internet (temporarily) on fire. I mean, how often do you get people to talk about a dictionary, anyway?

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4 Comments

Filed under Editing, writing

4 responses to “It’s Dictionary-Official, Guys.

  1. So what DOES make a word ‘official’?

    • Nothing, really. I mean, you can absolutely find words in the dictionary that are no longer used, and which most people wouldn’t understand. In a sense, that word might as well not exist. There are groups that argue over spelling and grammar, but it’s really more about consensus. Much like money, it’s only valid if society generally agrees to it.

  2. What an awesome perspective on a decidedly silly cultural discourse. I think it highlights the fact that meaning in language is in flux, not fixed. And its most certainly useful for storytellers to look at it that way.

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