Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Is Your Dictionary Obsolete?

When I was a little girl, I made sock puppets out of my daddy’s old socks. I sewed two buttons for the eyes and used a chain embroider stitch to create the mouth. My siblings and I spent many hours entertaining each other with our sock puppets.

You’re probably wondering what creating a toy has to do with writing. It seems that my definition of sock puppet has changed drastically since my early childhood days. Before I reveal the new meaning of the word, let’s take a look at the history of early wordsmiths.

Who invented the dictionary? No one person gets this credit. Samuel Johnson is most often credited with this task, but it's not true - not even he claimed it to be so. One of the earliest known dictionaries - and it's still around - was written in Latin and compiled during the reign of Augustus. The Chinese had a dictionary in the third century B.C. In 1604 Robert Cawdrey created the first English language dictionary and in 1656 Thomas Blount also published a dictionary. Johnson didn't crank his out until 1755. In 1806, American lexicographer Noah Webster, compiled his dictionary of the English language.

As a writer and a lover of words, I wonder how these early lexicographers would feel about Webster’s latest batch of new words? A recent news article left me amazed at how obsolete and out of touch I’ve become with today’s modern language.

Do you use a sock puppet to secretly keep track of your frenemies? Plan to spend your staycation watching vblogs and webisodes? Or perhaps you plan to signal a flash mob for a quick bite of shawarma.

If you’re not entirely certain what all that means, turn to the latest edition of the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, which has added about 100 new words that largely reflect changing trends in American society.

John Morse, president and publisher of the Springfield-based dictionary publisher said, <> many of this year’s new words are tied to changes in technology, increasing environmental awareness and aging baby boomers’ concerns about their health and have become part of the general lexicon.<>

Consider these new words and their definitions that have been added to dictionaries:

Locavore – one who eats foods grown locally

Frenemy – someone who acts like a friend but is really an enemy

Waterboarding – an interrogation technique used to induce the sensation of drowning

Vlogs – a blog that contains video material

Webisode – a TV show that can be viewed at a website

Flash mob – a group of people summoned electronically to a designated spot at a specified time to perform an indicated action before dispersing

Green-collar – involving actions for protecting the natural environment

Shawarma – an on-the-go meal

Sock puppet – a false online identity used for deceptive purposes; people using fake IDs on social networking sites

In wondering how to bring this article to an end, I thought about how over the years the definitions of many words have changed. Here are a few that I remember:

Gnarly: bent, aged; weather-beaten, rugged Gnarly (70-80s version) – excellent; great
High-water: water above its normal level High-water: pants that are to short
Bananas: a tropical fruit Bananas – irrational; to freak out
Gay: to be happy; cheerful Gay – homosexual
Sweet: sugary; an agreeable flavor Sweet – cool; awesome

I wonder if the early lexicographers are turning over in their graves? I suppose it’s time to retire my faithful dictionary with its tattered pages and 1966 copyright date. As a writer, it’s time to invest in a new dictionary. What about you—is it time?
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Skhye said...

Awww, just more evidence that no culture is static. ;) ~Skhye

Carol Hutchens said...

Very interesting...thanks for the update, Loretta.

Loretta C. Rogers said...

Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment, Carol.

Edna said...

I use a lot of southern words that northerns don't understand, I have a new neighbor from Boston and she has to ask me over a lot what I say because I talk so fast.


Sandy Cody said...

Great post, Loretta - makes me realize that I really, really need a new dictionary. I have to agree with Skhye that culture is not static - a good thing I think.