The addition of slang words to the dictionary
“Dude, that girl is bootylicious.” Is there anything wrong with this phrase? Other than its possible offense to women, this sentence is actually perfectly acceptable in the English language.
Phrases such as “bootylicious,” which would cause the founding fathers (and mothers) of the English language to turn in their graves, are in fact being accepted as not only spoken lingo but real words. As in, they are making their way into English dictionaries.
Words can begin to gain popularity from something as simple as a song. For instance, Beyonce was able to distribute the word bootylicious to such an extent that dictionary editors took notice. A representative for Merriam-Webster, who chose to remain anonymous, said editors spend hours per day just reading through published material. The key is that it has been published. From newspapers and magazines to paper scraps.
“We have thousands and thousands of slips of paper that go back to the 1800s, just citing word usage in writing,” the representative said.
Editors make notes of new spellings, new combinations of words, or new words altogether.
“It’s all about evidence in written language,” the representative said.
Richard Mulcaster drafted the original English dictionary in 1592, according to the British Library. It listed 8,000 words. Currently, The Oxford Dictionary contains over 171,000 words. Despite the fact that Mulcaster may have missed a few words, clearly, the English language has been an accepting one.
Using the English language for three-quarters of a century and teaching it for about half that time, Julie Woods, a 75-year-old retired English teacher from Massachusetts was not surprised how language has changed.
“I know that it is human nature, really, for each generation to fight this new slang that is brought up by the younger generation,” Woods said. “But it is the way the world works, and people change as generations do, and we might as well embrace it.”
Woods doesn’t mind the introduction of new words into the language and never discouraged students from utilizing these new words. She even recalled how her mother noted the changing of words and meanings.
“It is interesting to hear things hold different meanings or just new words in general,” Woods said. “I remember when my mother would tell me how terrific used to mean terrible.”
For example, the word “dude” has become a popular term of endearment between friends. It is ingrained in many young peoples’ everyday lives. However, an older dictionary defined the word dude as the hair on someone’s backside.
According to an article in The Atlantic Wire, bootylicious is among a group of words added to the dictionary from the lingo of today’s youth. Over the last two years, this group has included: sexting, f-bomb, gassed, energy drink and man cave.
The Merriam-Webster representative said that the words have been popular in spoken language for a time, but the deciding factor is when they make their way into the printed English language.
“I suppose that since we have more space with the online dictionaries than we used to have when it was all print, we do have room for more new words,” the representative said. “However, spoken language is still not what we look for. It’s not about what we hear, it’s about what we read.”
Although print is considered a dying medium, it is still not enough to hear words over the radio or on television. Words even so ridiculous as bootylicious have to be seen in print often enough for the dictionary’s editors to consider it proper evidence.
Words will continue to change with each generation. Each year, and each day, new words are born and new meanings created. It is going to happen as youth find ways to make their mark on the English language. Who knows what word will make it into the dictionary next? Perhaps dictionary editors will start to look at online publication, even Facebook or Twitter, as credible evidence for the inclusion of new words.
Jack Brophy is a freshman TV-R major who still won’t use the word “bootylicious.” Email him at jbrophy1[at]ithaca[dot]edu.