Other than being used as online or text abbreviations, what do the “words” LOL and OMG and the verb “to heart” have in common? They were all just recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary, and it has been causing quite a stir among some linguists.
Bill Walsh, a professor of English, says the controversy is often nonexistent. He says the media often exaggerates the issue, when in reality, there isn’t much of a resistance to the inclusion of modern terminology in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Walsh said it all has to do with how one treats the evolution of language.
“The language is what people speak and the dictionary has every right to present the language as it is used,” Walsh said.
Sophomore English-writing major Eric Ellis agreed.
“I think the inclusion of new, increasingly popular phrases to the dictionary is a good thing,” he said. “Humans are linguistic creatures and the way we study and observe language should be all-inclusive.”
Sophomore chemistry major Jordan Krieble said that the dictionary is more than a reference, and it should catalog the way our language has evolved. However, she is not sure LOL and its companions belong just yet.
“Although slang is a big part of our everyday speech, I’m not sure the dictionary is the place for it until it becomes a little more constant,” Krieble said. “Most slang and initialisms come and go, but the ones that stick are worth recording.”
Walsh said the Oxford English Dictionary makes decisions on what words to include based on submissions.
Along with definitions, the dictionary usually includes the first time the word appeared in print. For instance, the word OMG can be traced back to a 1917 letter written to Winston Churchill.
“Sometimes the meaning [of a word] evolves,” Walsh said. “This happened with the word LOL, which in 1960 signified ‘little old ladies.’ I think the dictionary attempts to describe the language as it’s spoken.
“I don’t go around saying LOL. In fact, I still haven’t figured out if it’s ‘laugh out loud’ or ‘lots of love.’”
Citing a recent New York Times article by linguist Geoffrey Nunberg, Walsh said the dictionary can serve either a prescriptive or descriptive purpose. Rather than make strict rules about the proper use of language, the Oxford English Dictionary embodies the descriptive approach.
He said there is a big distinction between what dictionaries used to be in the past and what they have become in a modern sense.
“A dictionary has a task to perform but it doesn’t supersede our independent use of the language,” Walsh said. He said in today’s times, not only are internet and texting acronyms becoming more ubiquitous, but languages are coming into contact and exchanging terminology in this way as well.
Ellis said it was unfortunate that some words or phrases that help define generations, cultures and subcultures are often dismissed just for being considered slang.
“In our ever-expanding globalized world where ideas can be exchanged instantaneously, LOL has evolved to mean more than just [what] the acronym implies,” Ellis said.
When it comes to the evolving standards of what is acceptable in language, the consensus seems to lean towards describing how the language is actually spoken.
“Language is constantly changing and developing,” Krieble said. “I don’t see why our references shouldn’t keep up.”