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Social Media Words Enter Official Lexicon

Picture 3“Word: something that is said. A speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolizes and communicates a meaning usually without being divisible into smaller units capable of independent use.”  That’s the definition of a word, according to Merriam-Webster. 

The world is full of them.  In fact, there are more than 258,000 words in the English language.  They range from everyday words to silly words like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.  While most of us can actually pronounce supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, the longest word in the English dictionary is Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, which I’m not sure anyone can really pronounce.  Want to try pronouncing Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahul? No, I didn’t just hit a bunch of keys on the keyboard, either.  It’s actually the Maori name for a hill in New Zealand, and is officially the world’s longest name for a place.

These past few years, pop culture influenced which words make it into the English dictionary. Beyonce’s “Bootylicious” was added to the dictionary a few years ago, while the world of Harry Potter helped “muggle,” a person who possesses no magical powers, reserve a spot in the English dictionary as well.  While pop culture has had a significant impact on the world, it looks like it has stepped aside as social media starts to influence the world even more.

Every year around this time, the New Oxford American Dictionary comes up with a list of candidates for new words of the year.  This year, the list is full of social media terms — most pertaining to Twitter.

“Unfriend” was the NOAD’s Word of the Year.  Tech-savvy readers will recognize the word to mean the deletion of a friend from a social media site.  The verb’s actual definition is, “To remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook.”  You could use it in a sentence  such as, “I decided to unfriend my roommate on Facebook after we had a fight.”

“It has both currency and potential longevity,” said Christine Lindberg, senior lexicographer for Oxford’s U.S. dictionary program. “In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for Word of the Year. Most “un-” prefixed words are adjectives (unacceptable, unpleasant), and there are certainly some familiar “un-” verbs (uncap, unpack), but “unfriend” is different from the norm. It assumes a verb sense of “friend” that is really not used (at least not since maybe the 17th century!). Unfriend has real lex-appeal.”

Another word that made it to the list was “hashtag,” defined as a # sign added to a word or phrase that enables Twitter users to search for tweets  that contain similarly tagged items and view thematic sets.  Among the other Twitter words which will become part of the English language are tweeps, tweetup, twitt, twitterati, twitterature, twitterverse/sphere, retweet, twibe, sweeple, tweepish, tweetaholic, twittermob, & twitterhea, which all are pretty self explanatory.

It’s crazy to think that one website or a culture of websites can actually have an impact of the rest of the world, or should I say twitterverse.  The world is ever changing and it’s likely with the increased use of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook that every year we will see new social media-specific terms gain traction more generally. 

Think about it.  Social networking sites make things go viral.  All it takes is one person to say some non-existent word on their Facebook or Twitter status, to make a video dedicated to the non-existent word, and boom — within the next year or two, that word could end up in the English dictionary. Very coolarific!? Hey, it was worth a shot!

1 Comment

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