Srsly, my new phablet allows me to take the best selfies.
A year ago, that would not have been recognised as a “proper” English sentence. Recent additions to the Oxford English Dictionary make it, however, perhaps not legitimate but certainly “English”.
Thanks to Oxford Dictionaries’ recent announcement of its Word of the Year for 2013, and other recent updates, “srsly” and “selfie” are perfectly acceptable in informal conversation – though Oxford says they are not appropriate in “official or formal” communication*.
While Australians can now “resubscribe” to a “live-streaming” channel or go on “vacay” to escape from their “hackerspace”, one has to ask, what next?
Susan Butler, publisher and editor of Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary, told The Newsroom that dictionaries themselves have no influence on words.
“The role of the dictionary is not to pass judgement on a word,” she said.
“ ‘Selfie’ is an obviously useful word and [everyone] has taken up using it. That is why it has made it into the dictionary. It fills a void.”
The English language has been crafted and changed by influences from other languages such as Latin, French, German, and advances in technology.
Now code speak – abbreviated texting language, developed as a faster and shorter means of communication, especially via SMS and email – is making its way into English dictionaries.
Thus an abbreviation of “seriously”, spelled “srsly”, is now recognised by Oxford Dictionaries, publisher of the OED.
“Tomoz” is listed in Macquarie Dictionary as an abbreviated version of tomorrow and an example of the code-like nature of text speak.
Ms Butler said that words once used only as quicker and shorter alternatives while texting are more and more becoming integrated into the English language, effectively functioning as words of their own.
David Astle, crossword compiler for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, pointed to examples that demonstrate how our language constantly evolves.
“A word like shrewd, which now means smart or discerning, once meant hurtful, then undesirable, then crafty,” he told The Newsroom.
“As for new words altogether, such as ‘selfie’ and ‘twerk’, these can be seen as reflecting a rising extrovert streak in society, just as ‘binge-watching’ and ‘showrooming’ [additional entries in Oxford’s Word of the Year shortlist] embody a self-serving behaviour,” he said.
Above all else, however, new words and meanings generated by new technologies have been filling English dictionaries from cover to cover.
The November edition of recent additions to the Oxford Dictionaries database lists “high definition”, “refollow”, and “iOS” amongst others.
A full list of the Oxford Dictionaries’ new words can be found here. The page is updated often, reflecting the pace of change in our language. – Kate Ball
* The devil, as always, is in the detail: Oxford specifies for both srsly and selfie that the usage is “informal” – something of a weasel word that says the usage defined is “suitable to everyday language and conversation rather than to official or formal contexts”.
It’s enough to make a style purist spew, and frequently does. Not because we hate change, but because change in words makes messages ambiguous – and ambiguity is antithetical to clear communication.
The Oxford dictionaries have shown increasing acceptance of “informal” usage, making them descriptive rather than “prescriptive” – the old-fashioned dictionary ethos that told readers “Don’t do that!”
If you can find an Oxford dictionary predating 1970 you’ll see words such as shit were labelled “Vulgar, not in polite use”. Smaller dictionaries simply did not acknowledge the existence of other “four-letter words”. Now Oxford simply notes, somewhat judgementally, that shit and even fuck are “coarse slang”.
Macquarie lists even the most loaded four-letter word as no worse than “colloquial”. There’s not even an “Avoid using in front of the headmaster or five-year-olds keen to extend their vocabularies.”
So what does the future hold for our language? The only firm prediction anyone can make is that teenagers will always speak a different language and will still confuse the hell out of their “olds”. – Tony Kleu, style tutor
Top photo of the Oxford English Dictionary from Jonathan Cohen’s Flickr photostream.