Monday, April 04, 2011

LOL at the King's English

Think of the Oxford Dictionary and you think of a rock-ribbed,
tradition-hugging defender of the King’s English.

Or so we were led to believe.

The Oxford wordsmiths, however, recently announced that they were
adding LOL and OMG to their dictionary because words "like these are
strongly associated with the language of electronic communications,"
and have entered the mainstream because of how easy they are to use.

Welcome to the post-literate society, the era of the three-second
attention span, the world of techno-babble. All brought to you by the
Oxford English Dictionary.

Or to put it another way, OMG, I’d LOL if it wasn’t so tragic, IMHO.
(For those who need a translation, it reads “Oh My God, I’d Laugh Out
Loud if it wasn’t so tragic In My Humble Opinion..”)

Look, I’m no wizened grammarian whose last whose last slang utterance
was “23 Skidoo.”

I’m not suggesting we draw the line at anything written or spoken
this side of the Elizabethan era. I certainly understand that words
and phrases reflecting popular culture enter into the lexicon by the

But there’s something cold and sterile about using acronyms or geek
speak in place of words. Words, in whatever language, paint pictures,
convey ideas, excite the imagination, conjure up visions both dark
and beautiful.

I am not swept away on the wings of language when I read
thumb-generated gossip in abbreviated form understood primarily by
13-year-old girls who are BFF (best friends forever).

I’d like to think that if the Hemmingways and Fitzgeralds and
Steinbecks were still with us, they’d shun expressing themselves in
140 characters or less on their Twitter account.

The Oxford bunch, after succumbing to what they call “initialism,”
for good measure throw in “wag,” “notable for the extremely fast
journey from its introduction to the language to its use as usual
English vocabulary. In 2002, the Sunday Telegraph reported that the
staff at the England footballers’ pre-World Cup training camp
referred to the players’ partners collectively as ‘Wags’, from the
initial letters of ‘wives and girlfriends’.

“Such was the exposure the term received in this period that it
became a byword for the female partners of male professionals (in
football and in other spheres).”

I’m not sure but I think if I referred to my wife as a “wag” I’d be
SOTC (sleeping on the couch).

And if all the above isn’t distressing enough, the Oxfordians also
added “la-la land which can refer either to Los Angeles(in which case
its etymology is influenced by the common initialism for that city),
or to a state of being out of touch with reality—and sometimes to
both simultaneously.”

La-La-Land is a place where you can eat a “taquito” or a “California
roll,” two other words the Brits have just discovered and added to
their dictionary.

Is that any way to treat a city that just bestowed its highest honor
on a movie called “The King’s Speech”?

To be sure, the Oxford folks have anointed some words and phrases
that are clever such as dot-bomb (a failed internet company) and
couch surfing (the practice of spending the night on other people’s
couches in lieu of permanent housing).

There’s also ego surf (to surf the World Wide Web looking for
references to one's name, via search engines) and godbotherer, in
England a person who insists on promoting his or her religious
beliefs on others, whether they want it or not.

And our Oxford friends, who, by the way, refer to their publication
as the OED, point out that many of these terms aren’t really new.
“As such usage indicates, many people would consider these recent
coinages, from the last 10 or 20 years, and associate them with a
younger generation conversant with all forms of digital
communications. As is often the case, OED’s research has revealed
some unexpected historical perspectives: our first quotation for OMG
is from a personal letter from 1917; the letters LOL had a previous
life, starting in 1960, denoting an elderly woman (or ‘little old

Not that a little history justifies dumbing down the language.

Samuel Johnson must be TOIHG (turning over in his grave) in MNSHO (my
not so humble opinion).

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