« | Home | »

Thousands Of Dictionaries Die In Tragic Vocabulary Explosion

Topics: Editorial & Opinion | Add A CommentBy admin | February 6, 2011

I went to the word doctor and he told me I needed a new Linguistic prescription, so I decided to stop procrasturbating and buy a new wiener filter.


What word lover wouldn’t LOVE a copy of
the OED? Well, me I guess. If it costs 1300
bucks and is obsolete by the time it ships.

Today I got an e-mail from a friend in which the word “empath” was used. The particular usage of the word in the e-mail highlighted something that I think about quite a bit, which is that the English language is probably more fun now than it’s ever been, even if we don’t know what we’re saying to each other. I’m referring of course to the fact that as the venerated Oxford English Dictonary dies slowly from self-inflicted wounds like including Homer Simpson’s DOH! in its pages, new words and axioms are appearing and disappearing so fast that on a regular basis, it can be hard to tell what someone is talking about. There have long been two basic schools of thought regarding how to go about defining words – in a nutshell, prescriptivists want to tell you how to use words, and descriptivists want to tell you how you are using words. It’s sort of like the difference between always adhering to the dictionary, versus being more willing to accept common usage. Which is why I’ve always found the existence of Common Usage Dictionaries to be a little problematic. In any case, neither of these schools of thought were of much use in addressing the word I mentioned at the outset. i.e.: empath. It presumably means someone who is empathic (or empathetic, if you prefer). But what does that really mean? If you take the word “empathetic” and its little friend “sympathetic”, you’ll find that the people who are most likely to be confident in their understanding of the two words’ meanings will in fact have the definitions reversed. Most educated people will say that empathy means that you can actually feel someone else’s feelings, while sympathy means that you can imagine how they feel. What do you think they mean? In point of fact, the word empathy was brought into usage in English in the 1880′s specifically to provide a word that describes a professional clinician’s need to maintain detachment while still truly understanding how a patient feels. See the yellow highlighted summary at the bottom of this page for further explanation. But that’s just two of probably hundreds (if not thousands) of commonly used words that are prone to misuse or open to debate. I’m surprised that they’re not on this Wikipedia List of English words with disputed usage. But those are slow-moving targets, much like the already-archaic term “politically correct” which enjoyed a mini-revival recently when hurled at Barack Obama by the Israeli press. But the real fun with the rapid evolution of our language is being driven by the internet, technology, and politics. In the case of the latter, GOP strategist Frank Luntz has brilliantly blazed new trails by understanding that it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear. His book Words That Work outlines how he helped the Republican party win repeatedly simply by, for instance, telling you to think about “personalizing your retirement plans” instead of “worrying about Social Security” . And regarding the former two influences – the internet and technology – we not only have a complex new world of devices and the behaviors that they drive, we have an incredibly rapid way to share the words being created to describe them. There simply is no way that a team of academics arguing about what to include in the next Oxford English Dictionary (only $1300!) can remain useful to us; probably the closest thing we have to a useful dictionary are sites like Urban Dictionary. Which is both scary AND fun, in my opinion. I mean, while we may not need words like procrasturbation, we may need words like Dykeadelic, because who doesn’t know someone who isn’t? And futronym will come in handy when we need to manage all the retronyms we haven’t created yet. Below are a few of my favorite recent words. Feel free to share any good ones of your own. And if everything I’ve said here just sounds like noise to you, maybe you should run it through your Wiener filter. You should have no trouble finding one; they’ve been around since 1949.

Molesturbation: The act of manipulating another persons arm to make a masturbatory motion.
Exasturbation: The act of making matters worse by masturbating.
Exhaustibation: The act of exhausting yourself through masturbation
Procrasturbation: 1.) delaying an activity by masturbating first or 2.) Delaying the act of masturbation
Peptodismal: News so bad it makes you sick to your stomach.
Prossibly: probably + possibly
Guitarded: To be unable to learn to play guitar.
Fagnet: Straight man with magical power that attracts gay men
Them-barrassment: when you do something embarrassing and someone else feels embarrassed
Insinuendo: innuendo + insinuate
Carcolepsy – Tendency to fall asleep in moving vehicles