Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - September 11, 2015


As a teacher of writing, I emphasize to my students the importance of spelling and grammar. A recent Facebook post made me chuckle and might serve as a good illustration in my classes:

"Grammar: The difference between feeling your nuts and feeling you're nuts."

It's not exactly politically correct, but it might make students take note of how crucial correct word usage is.

I also tell my students that simplicity is a good principle to follow. When someone uses overly-academic words - paradigm or pedagogy, for example - I grit my teeth. Or when someone converts a noun - impact - to a verb - impacted, it's like fingernails on a chalkboard for me. And adding "up" to a verb - change up or head up - just makes me want to scream.

Still, I love the fact that our language is ever-evolving. Pop culture, new technology and social media have given birth to many new words - and sometimes those words seem to fit what they're describing to a T. That was brought home to me when I read about the new words recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Some of my favorites from that list:

- "Awesomesauce (adj): Extremely good"

That one makes me smile.

- "Brain fart (n): A temporary mental lapse to reason correctly"

I've experienced a few of these - sometimes several in a day!

- "Butt dial (v): Inadvertently dial someone on a mobile phone that is in one's rear trouser pocket"

Since I don't carry my cell phone in my rear pocket, I've never truly butt-dialed anyone. However, one time my cell phone "talked" to me from the depths of my purse because I had accidently touched the microphone function. Husband Art carries his phone in his shirt pocket and has "pocket dialed" any number of people.

- "Hangry (adj): Bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger"

Art has learned that if I don't get food at two-hour intervals when we're traveling, I can be "difficult."

- "Manspreading (n): The practice whereby a man, especially one traveling on public transport, adopts a sitting position with his legs wide apart, in such a way as to encroach on an adjacent seat or seats"

This happened to me on a recent flight from Chicago to Manhattan. I've noticed that most women try to accommodate other people when they're sitting next to them or walking down grocery aisles or sidewalks by stepping aside, turning sideways or pulling things they are carrying closer to their body. Men seem to frequently make themselves larger by spreading out.

Daughters Mariya and Katie mentioned other words that have been added to our lexicon via Twitter and Facebook:

- "Totes presh" - something totally precious

- "Noice" - nice

Abbreviations are often used, particularly in Twitter messages that are limited to 140 characters. Sometimes these are criticized, but in the late 1800s, telegraphy used them to save time and space. By 1879, SCOTUS - an acronym for "Supreme Court of the United States" - was a telegraphic abbreviation used by news wires and still in somewhat general use today. POTUS - "President of the United States" - is more widely known and it also originated as a telegraphic abbreviation.

Some of the recent entries in the Oxford English Dictionary demonstrate that words which seem new might have a long history. For example: the word "twerk" - a dance move popularized by singer Miley Cyrus at a 2013 MTV awards show - actually dates back to 1820, according to the dictionary researchers. They discovered the word was first used in 1820, spelled twirk, to refer to a twisting or jerking movement or twitch.

The verb is believed to have emerged later in 1848 and the twerk spelling was used by 1901, the dictionary says. The dictionary describes twerking as dancing "in a sexually provocative manner, using thrusting movements of the bottom and hips while in a low, squatting stance." The use of twerk to describe a type of dancing which emphasizes the performer's posterior originated in the early 1990s in New Orleans.

According to oxforddictionaries.com, new words and phrases are added once editors have gathered enough evidence to be confident they are widely used in English. But they do not gain entry into the dictionary unless continued historical use can be shown.

In an Aug. 27 Guardian article, Fiona McPherson, senior editor of Oxford Dictionaries, said the addition of multiple slang words "did not represent a dumbing down of English, but showed creative use of language."

She said: "There's always been new slang words. I just think we are more aware of them because of the ways in which we consume and live our lives now. We are bombarded with more and more avenues where those sort of words are used and we just think that there are more of them. I don't necessarily think that's the case.

"From my point of view as a lexicographer, it's not really about dumbing down, it's more [about] creative ways that people are using language."


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