TSUTSUMI ACUNA: Srsly saving language

“Srsly, get a hold of this. I gave away my jorts yesterday; decided I’m going for a geek chic look. Maybe it was because all of the guac I’ve been eating gave me a food baby. Or maybe it was the fact that I can’t twerk as well in them as when I’m rocking sweats. Anyway, I kind of regret giving them away. … I think I’m going to vom.”

Get used to it, because what you just read might just be the new lingo of the 21st century. Dictionaries are endorsing valley girl talk and text abbreviations for those with lazy fingers and minds. Recently, the Oxford Dictionaries Online released a lengthy list of its newest additions. The free online dictionary now includes words like “selfie,” “buzzworthy” and “derp.” Some of these words gained popularity through their online use, while others were derived from recent trends. “Seriously,” being too long of a word to write out completely (perhaps for those who have never laid their eyes on “hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian”), was slimmed down to “srsly.” Maybe it was people’s fear of receiving a “TL;DR” (too long; didn’t read) reply to a text that caused this sudden vanishing of vowels. But perhaps the exact opposite is being achieved. Should we be worried that we are becoming more willing to read sentences in which we are frcd to fll the gps?

ODO defines FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) as “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media.” I try to picture Macaulay Culkin in “Home Alone” FOMOing as the rest of his family accidentally left him behind on their Christmas vacation, or the crew of Apollo 11 FOMOing as Armstrong became the first to step on the surface of the moon, but it doesn’t seem quite right. The creation of FOMO accompanied the rise of social media. Were it not for Facebook posts of weekend trips to the Hamptons or Instagrams of drinks at Viva’s, we would lack the jealousy-triggering visuals that cause us to feel FOMO and begin the self-deprecation that comes with it. Making FOMO an official word is a formal acceptance of a type of person that can’t appreciate what is happening here and now.

Words are not added to the dictionary on a whim. The dictionary is a Bible of sorts for any and every communicating human, and it must remain sacred. I once used to imagine a committee of scholars and linguists extensively debating over words, discussing their meaning, examining their usage, musing over every aspect of speech and expression. They would sit in a room for days on end throwing the word around and playing with the idea of someday introducing it to the world. They would scrutinize each word until they agreed that it was ready to be set in stone or discarded into oblivion with all the dying words that never came to be. But now, I see a young group of easygoing people casually talking about words at the bar, as they text under tables and surf the Web for the latest viral videos and trends.

“Twerk? Add it. Cake pop? Sure, I’ve had ’em before. Selfie? Don’t we all?” Well, they’re all in the dictionary.

As words are thrown around, the beauty of our language is being sacrificed. At the Merriam-Webster dictionary, editors monitor the words that are being used most often — paying close attention to how people are using them. A word must have enough citations in order to be added to the dictionary. However, frequency and popularity are not strong enough deciding factors to merit the addition of certain words. The key is maintaining selectivity if we are to preserve the richness of language.

These new words might provide us with speedy communication, might capture current trends and may very well become part of our society’s culture. But finding them within a dictionary that has been around since 1884 gives them credence and reflects what we are becoming, whether we are proud of it or not.

We cannot acknowledge these words without blurring the lines of language. If we accept them, we will no longer know when formal words are appropriate — or when casual words are acceptable. Will mellifluous words like “susurrous,” “lissome,” “fugacious” and “diaphanous” even be used anymore?

As culture changes, language does too. But we should not be codifying fleeting language that is part of a fad or that may be temporary. Some words might make the dictionary, others might not; they must be able to stand the test of time. Let us hope that those words that prove unworthy eventually perish, and we re-evaluate the culture that once gave them life.

Ida Tsutsumi Acuna is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact her at ida.tsutsumiacuna@yale.edu.

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