‘Innit’ and ‘thang’ enter the lexicon

Scrabble, the word game, says it will allow new words like 'blingy', 'bredren', and even 'grrl'. Protests will not halt the language's long history of adaptation. But should there be limits?

When Sarah Palin said in an interview she wanted President Obama to ‘refudiate’ assumptions, derision was heaped on this controversial American politician.

She seemed to have mixed up two words: ‘refute’, which means to correct, and ‘repudiate,’ which is a way of saying you reject something.

Rather than being ashamed by her confused use of English, Palin fought back by comparing herself to William Shakespeare.

She used her Twitter account to point out that the Elizabethan poet and playwright is famous for his coinages – the verbal inventions that experts say first turn up in his works.

‘English is a living language,’ she tweeted. ‘Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!’

The team behind Scrabble, the word game, seem to agree. This week they have added 3000 approved words to the list of a quarter of a million. Players will now be allowed to use slang and street terms like ‘innit’, ‘bredren’ or ‘blingy’.

International players can make the word ‘qin’, a Chinese stringed instrument, to use up those difficult-to-place Qs, or the terms for Indian delicacies like ‘aloo gobi.’ Technology has penetrated everyday usage to such an extent that ‘MySpace’, ‘Facebook’, ‘vlog’ and ‘webzine’ will also be allowed.

Mark Nyman, world Scrabble champion in 1993, said he was looking forward to plundering the new list for future games. ‘When words become commonly used it makes sense to include them,’ he said. But traditionalists have been offended by the update, the most recent since 2007.

‘What a shame,’ the Daily Express bemoaned in an editorial.

Perhaps the newspaper’s writers would prefer the system the French use to regulate their language. In Paris, a body called the Académie Française, set up in 1634 and composed of 40 leading writers known as ‘les immortels’ or ‘the immortals’, is in charge of setting standards for French usage.

But should the rest of us be allowed the same sort of freedom to invent that we allow to poets and writers, who push the language to its limits in their search for the ever-more-expressive phrase?

Free expression

Critics of the French way of doing things argue that it’s too conservative, and that it flies in the face of inevitable change.

Sarah Palin seems to see it like this. And possibly so would the last Republican President of the USA, George W Bush, who warned us not to ‘misunderestimate’ him – another invented word he’s famous for using.

You Decide

  1. 'If a slang word is in general use, it should be fine in the dictionary. Even if it is a passing fad.' Do you agree?
  2. Does English need to be more flexible because it is used by Americans, Australians, Britons and many others around the world? Or is it easier if everyone knows there are rules?

Activities

  1. There is a difference between spoken and written English, that which is used formally at work and school and in ordinary conversation. Produce examples of each of these different ‘registers’.
  2. Imagine official English is to be regulated as in France. Who should decide and how? Design a ‘language police’ and imagine how it would be enforced.

Some People Say...

“A mistake is a mistake.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How can the French Academy be conservative?
I don’t mean it is on the right of politics. Conservative with a small ‘c’ just means cautious and opposed to change. The adjective gave its name to the Conservative party, rather than the other way around.
Oh I see. And we’re more free and easy about English?
Some people say we have to be, partly because English is such an international language that its use in many different contexts and countries is changing it at a very rapid rate.
What would Shakespeare say to that?
The man credited with introducing nearly 3,000 words into the language might find the idea of a developing international version of English exciting. But he would hate to have a limited vocabulary.

Subjects

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.