Avo, bougie and rando: the new words for 2018

LOL: Bougie is a slang insult for someone who is too concerned about wealth and respectability.

Is the English language getting out of hand? Merriam-Webster has added more than 800 new words to its dictionary, including “TL;DR”. Our language has been constantly changing for centuries.

Do you get hangry without your morning avo?

These are among more than 800 words added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary this year. Many are abbreviations, like “adorbs”, or portmanteaus, such as “mocktail”, a non-alcoholic cocktail.

It is not all lighthearted. Words like “food bank” and “tent city” reflect social problems with poverty and the migrant crisis, while “biohacking” looks towards a future of advanced technology.

Some are barely recognisable as words at all. “TL;DR”, meaning “too long; didn’t read”, is used on the internet to summarise the key points of a longer article.

Compared with other languages, English is vast and flexible because it has interacted with many cultures over the centuries. English was entirely Germanic until 1066, when William the Conqueror brought French to the British Isles and, with it, thousands of words derived from Latin.

This has often left English with multiple ways of conveying one meaning. “Grow” comes from the old Germanic, “increase” from Old French, and “augment” from Latin.

The inventiveness of a few individuals has also played a part. Words coined by Shakespeare include “lonely”, “assassination” and “addiction”. Chaucer, whose writings include the first uses of 2,000 words, invented “twitter” for birdsong 700 years before it would inspire the name of the social network.

Sometimes, the meaning of words changes organically over time. In contrast to now, in the 1700s “cute” meant shrewd or cunning.

Not all languages are so flexible. For centuries, France has imposed strict rules to standardise its language and unite the nation. Agencies nicknamed the “language police” battle to stop the spread of Anglicisms and maintain uniformity.

Nevertheless, some changes to English have proved controversial. In 2013, the definition of “literally” was changed to include when “something is not literally true but is used for emphasis”, which essentially gave the word two opposing meanings.

Two years later, Oxford Dictionaries named the “tears of joy” emoji its word of the year.

Is English getting out of hand?

Pass the guac

Absolutely, say some. Rather than being inventive, these “new” words reveal a culture that is becoming lazy, shallow and facile. We’re losing the wonderful complexity of language. Can we seriously compare Shakespeare’s “incarnadine” to taking a few letters off the end of “guacamole”? Soon we’ll all be writing in emojis.

Language is a living thing that is constantly evolving, reply others. Internet and texting culture is just the latest in a long line of social revolutions that have forever marked the way we communicate. We live in an exciting time that is pushing the boundaries of what language can do. Resisting change is a losing battle.

You Decide

  1. What word would you add to the dictionary?
  2. Is our culture becoming less intelligent?

Activities

  1. Research 10 words that were first used by Shakespeare or Chaucer and define them. Test your classmates to see if they know the meanings.
  2. Research the history of the English language and produce a timeline of the major events throughout history, including illustrations.

Some People Say...

“Language is the road map of a culture.”

Rita Mae Brown

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Each year, dictionary-makers monitor the words we use in order to describe trends in language. This year, Merriam-Webster has added more than 840 new words including “haptics”, which refers to the science of touch, and the verb “instagramming”. The Oxford English Dictionary includes 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words.
What do we not know?
Whether the new words will have a lasting impact on the English language. Hundreds of new words are added each year and many of them are linked to passing trends, which soon fall out of fashion. We also do not know how the internet will continue to shape our language in years to come. The internet and texting have increased the use of abbreviations and acronyms, such as “LOL”.

Word Watch

Hangry
“Hungry” and “angry” put together, meaning when someone is irritable because they have not eaten.
Avo
An abbreviation of “avocado”.
Portmanteaus
A word that blends the sound and meaning of two others. For example, “brunch” for “breakfast” and “lunch”.
Biohacking
A scientific term describing the use of body modifications and implants with the aim of enhancing the body’s abilities. In science fiction, the idea is reminiscent of cyborgs, which are part human and part machine.
Germanic
Old English came from the Germanic languages brought over by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. These tribes travelled from central Europe to Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries.
Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer, who is often called the father of English literature, lived in the 1300s. His most famous work is The Canterbury Tales, which forever changed written English.

Subjects

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