I hate dictionaries.
I really do.
For centuries, prescriptivists have flocked to dictionaries to prove points, tell people the difference between ‘less’ and ‘fewer’, and to show how the English language has deteriorated since their third grade teacher told them that they can’t end sentences in prepositions.
But over the last few years, I’ve begun to realize that there are, in fact, a few dictionaries out there that are starting to lose the hold that prescriptivists have on their binding. Like Merriam-Webster, for instance, who, in recent years, has started to say “You know what, prescriptivists? Maybe there is no right and wrong in language. Sure one may be a little more right than the other, but it’s okay to say ‘octopuses’ instead of ‘octopi’ because it’s really ‘octopodes’ and we’re all wrong because none of us speak Ancient Greek to begin with.”
And then there’s the Oxford English Dictionary. The wonderful book that doesn’t even claim to say that something is right or wrong – they just want to let you know when a word started being used in English. It’s a history book, more than anything. And of the many things I love in this world, history and words are definitely in the top 10.
That’s why I started doing my ‘Best New Additions to the OED’ posts when I first started this blog. But last time around, their word list was pretty lackluster. It was more of the same. More foreign words that have slipped into our vocabulary over the years and finally someone in a position of word-power is starting to take notice. Nothing fun, nothing naughty, just words.
That’s why I was ecstatic when I saw that Merriam-Webster had added over 250 words to its dictionary this morning. Like what, you ask?
- Frozen yogurt.
I remember in the late 2000s when froyo was all the rage. Every five seconds a new froyo shop opened up on the street corner. A new one also shut down every five seconds, but that’s beside the point. It’s amazing to me that it took this long to get froyo into the dictionary, especially after the froyo craze. Better late than never, right?
- The act of beginning drinking at home or at another establishment before going out to drink at a bar.
Everybody knows what pregaming is. Everyone knows how to pregame. And now, you can use the word pregame without feeling like a degenerate. What a time to be alive.
- A right-wing, primarily online political movement or grouping based in the U.S. whose members reject mainstream conservative politics and espouse extremist beliefs and policies typically centered on ideas of white nationalism.
Does anyone remember a time before the term ‘alt-right’ was used to describe the Pepe the Frog nut jobs that are all over the internet these days? I sure don’t. But really, the term wasn’t even used all too often before the 2016 election cycle when Hillary Clinton used it to describe this extremely small section of American conservatives. Well, now it’s an official term recognized by Merriam-Webster.
Which is weird, isn’t it? Not because of the term itself, but because it took ‘froyo’ so long, almost 40 years, to get put into the dictionary (and I’m sure that it was being used for years before 1979), but terms like ‘alt-right’ get used in the mainstream for a few years and they’re already sitting cozy next to ‘alt-rock’.
It’s kind of like that book Frindle. Do y’all remember that? Where the kids want to get a word in the dictionary, so they make up a new word for ‘pen’ and they start using it and then everyone uses it and then *poof* it’s in the dictionary?
I honestly never read it. I just know the premise. Is that how it goes? Does ‘frindle’ even make it into the dictionary? Oh god…my life is a lie.
Anyway. It’s kind of like that book. It’s all about who uses the word, I think. ‘Froyo’ hadn’t made it into the dictionary yet because it’s only been used by normal people. Well, ‘normal’ people – the average working-class citizen. Nobody would use ‘froyo’ in an academic paper. ‘Alt-right’, on the other hand, is a fairly common term used by media and academic types.
But who’s to say ‘froyo’ isn’t in a term paper somewhere? Who’s to say that ‘alt-right’ is officially a word before ‘froyo’ is?
Merriam-Webster, I guess.
Dictionaries are stupid.
Language is weird.