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Useful new words or sales gimmick?

June 04, 2007

Hello again,

I am a self-confessed dictionary addict but even I am beginning to weary at the regularity with which publishers bring out new ...

... editions of their lexicons on the pretext of including new words. I suppose I am becoming sceptical about the durability of many of these neologisms. Frankly vlogs (video journal), blooks (a blog turned into a book) and mobcasts (hybrid of podcast and mobile phone) don’t strike me as stayers. And are the traditional media really likely to be labelled “lamestream”? Such words sound slick on the tongues of broadcasters but don’t seem to me to fill much of a need in the vocabulary.

It is I suppose inevitable that newsworthy phenomena will yield their crop of new terms: hence climate canary and season creep have been spawned by global warming and in a sinister twist, waterboarding is a form of torture associated with current conflicts. "Rendition" and "Londonistan" (the UK capital as a base for radical Islamists) are included as is “Gitmo” slang for Guantánamo bay.

At the risk of being sexist, I do, on the other hand, applaud the ugly new epithets that describe today’s ill-costumed women: camel toe (visual effect created when a woman's trousers cling too tightly to the crotch); cankle (a thickened area between the calf and ankle), tanorexic (obsessed with maintaining a permanent deep tan), and muffin top (a roll of flesh spilling over the top of a tight skirt or trousers). Serves them right! But men don’t escape entirely. "Man flu" is apparently the male tendency to exaggerate a cold, and "man bag", is the male version of the handbag.

Word conversion is, I feel, a less ephemeral form of coinage. We still hear the verb “to handbag” falling from the lips of those who no longer remember Mrs Thatcher. Thus “to silver” means to age and given the obsession with avoiding this process, I predict this one will be with us for some time.

I suppose we can enjoy the spirit of contemporaneity shown by the zealous collection of new words but I think they are more likely to provide a snapshot of an era than to represent a permanent addition to the wordstore.

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  1. Bob Toomey Says:

    Brenda, I applaud your writing. I am been around for three generations now, and I have seen so many words come into the English language, and I suppose that is true for other languages. Rather that get overwhelmed by them, I use what I like, giggle at the fact there are so many new words almost every year, and I dont' use the ones that don't work for me. When I was in the military, I had to use a new set of English words that I never used again once I was out of the military. It is kind of like business English--if you aren't working in a particular business, don't take a Business English class. It is rather useless. Also, my own sons use language that I have never heard, and I remember using words that I never wanted my parents to understand. It is beyond our control, believe me. Simply, words come and go and I believe it will be so forever. So, to sum up, if you like the word and it works for you, use it. If you don't like it, never use it.

  1. bernie Says:

    "Gitmo" has been around a long time. I had a friend in the U S Navy in the 50's who often referred to the base as "Gitmo."

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