OMG (Oh My God)! FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), YOLO (You Only Live Once); all these are ‘trending’ world over. ‘Crowdfunding’,’ Cyberbullying’, ‘Selfie’ etc. Turn to any corner of cyberspace, and you will find new and funky words that get your attention. It’s all exciting! But, where do they come from? Who thinks these words? How do they become the happening thing everyone uses. Are these in the dictionary?
Eager to find out? Relax, you will get to know everything. Before that, let's learn some trivia from the world of words. Did you know that during the seventies ‘social network’ referred to the activity of networking in a pleasant social atmosphere which involved human presence?
But during the nineties, it had been appropriated to mean networking virtually via the internet.
Acronyms appropriated words and words that have been stretched in parts than intended originally, become slang with popularity with widespread usage. Over time, with persistence, they earn their spot in the Dictionary; psst… The Big Book!
Don’t Blame the Internet! It’s Us
Words have been originating from slangs for a long time. Always propelled by technology. Before the internet, we were captivated by radio, television and telephones. “Doh!” you might have heard beloved, wacky Homer Simpson utter these words repeatedly as he screwed things up on a daily basis.
Go back a few decades to the forties, good folks of those days might tell you this, ‘TTFN’ (Ta Ta For Now) made popular by the radio show, ‘It’s that Man Again’.
Always, technology has been the driver behind the slang wagon. We are spending more and more time on the internet. The Internet has invaded our lives in the form of phones. We have little or no time for television and radio these days. As a result, our interactions over the internet; our day to day lives get influenced by it.
The process of formation of words hasn’t changed. It’s the same. Language changes slowly, imbibing new words over time. But, the internet is fast. Giving you the impression that the language you know is changing at an alarming rate. Don’t fret! It’s the same old process; hastened several times over. Imagine, without internet; how long it would take a slang to become a word? Too long!
How Slangs Spread Over the Internet?
The question has occupied linguists and Anthropologists as to how slangs spread among people. Until recently they weren’t able to answer it. With the technology of the present time, they can understand how it happens. With the advent of social media, it became easy for them to track and identify words in use by the masses. Thanks to microblogging sites like Twitter that allow linguists to do more accurate searches of words across tweets.
Jacob Einstein and his colleagues from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta conducted a study in which they monitored 30,000,000 tweets send across the US from Dec 2009 to May 2011.
The study concluded with the understanding that social media aided in the acceleration of propagation of new words across the world within weeks or months as opposed to several years before it’s inception.
Julie Coleman, the author of ‘The Life of Slang’ appropriately said, “It’s not necessarily that language is changing more quickly, but technologies have developed, and they allow the transmission of slang terms to pass from one group to another much more quickly.”
Around The World With Internet Slang
Just like a language is native to a particular geographical location. Internet slangs are also becoming increasingly native based on locations. Acronyms like ‘OMG’, ‘LOL’ etc. have been customised to various locales usually within the geographical influence of the language governing the said locale. Take France for example. The French use ‘MDR’ which stands for ‘Mort De Rire’, meaning ‘dying of laughter’. The Swedish people use the acronym ‘ASG’ for referring to the word Asgarv which means deep laughter. The Thai people use ‘555’ to convey ‘hahaha’, as the number ‘5’ signifies the Thai letter ‘h’, ‘555’ (‘hhh’) = ‘hahaha’. Are you getting it?
The Ukrainians are fast adapting to computer slang, and they have created their own set. Remember the three key combinations (Ctrl + Alt + Del) that are used for closing a process.
The Ukrainian term for this operation is Dulya (Дуля) and is symbolically displayed by a clenched fist with the thumb protruding between the index finger and the middle finger. This gesture is the Ukrainian variant of the proverbial middle finger. So, it’s like telling whomever it’s referred to, to get lost.
So, How Do These Slangs Get Into Dictionary?
According to Fiona McPherson, who is a senior editor in the New Words Group at the Oxford English Dictionary, only the longevity of a word, i.e. prolonged usage of a word by the masses will get it into the Big Book. She claims that’s how ‘Lol’ the most widely used acronym got in the Book.
Some words get in; some don’t. For example, consider ‘wurfing’ which means surfing the internet while at work, didn’t make it. But, it’s not game over for ‘wurfing’. With time and widespread usage, even ‘wurfing’ can get into the book. The same goes for other words which didn’t make it in the dictionary and for new ones who will eventually get in.
Linguist Stephen Pinker says, “The time the academy finishes their dictionary, it will already be well out of date.” She also says, “We see it in the constant appearance of slang and jargon. Language is not so much a creator and shaper of human nature so much as a window onto human nature.”
Dictionary editors, the folks who are responsible for maintaining the Big Book look to us while they are updating the book. Anne Curzan, Language Historian, points out that we change the language and it’s the Dictionary editor’s jot to make sure the book is kept up to date by updating it periodically and determine what is going to stay and what’s not getting in.
Dictionary is a living entity, like us. No edition is finite, as long as we are around, the Big Book will keep on breathing, and the newer version will come out.
We are shaping the language either actively or passively. Creating new slangs, reusing it over an extended period. Repurposing old words and injecting new meaning into them. It’s all us. Our actions, as a collective conscience shapes languages. Together with technology and a fast adapting culture we are shaping the style of the English language slightly quicker than olden times.