Why the Oxford English Dictionary's newest words are more than just slang

The Oxford English Dictionary unveiled its annual additions on Monday, with a usual mix of silly and significant. 

Richard Drew/AP/File
The word malarkey, from the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, is shown in this photograph in New York on Dec. 5, 2012.

Welcome to the dictionary, "yolo."

The Oxford English Dictionary unveiled its most recent additions on Monday, a list of hundreds of words that includes the likes of "squee," "fuhgeddaboudit," and, yes, really, the acronym for "you only live once."

While some of the words, such as "cheese eater" (simply someone who eats cheese) and "bracketology" (predicting sports tournament winners) may strike some as silly slang, the annual tradition of updating the dictionary also serves as a reflection of notable cultural moments and trends.

One of this quarter's additions, "gender-fluid" – defined as "designating a person who does not identify with a single fixed gender" – comes at a time when half of US Millennials say gender is not limited to simply male or female but exists on a spectrum. Meanwhile, a growing number of universities are allowing students to choose their own gender pronouns.

"Uptalk," another new addition – defined as "a manner of speaking in which declarative sentences are uttered with rising intonation at the end, a type of intonation more typically associated with questions" – has been the subject of debate among feminists, and even addressed by a US senator.

And "clicktivism," or "the practice of signaling support for a political or social cause by means of the Internet, through social media, online petitions, etc., rather than by more substantive involvement," has been both praised and criticized for its effect on politics and activism.

This year, to celebrate the centenary of Roald Dahl's birth, a new word, "Dahlesque," was added in his honor, as well as a number of new and revised entries for words that appeared in the author's works, such as "scrumdiddlyumptious" and "human bean."

"It might seem romantic," said Jonathan Dent, the senior assistant editor in the OED's new words team, when asked by The Guardian how the new words were chosen. "But it's a lot of standard research, checks and balances. Anything new that goes into the dictionary is drafted and researched by us. It's all down to evidence."

But not all dictionary readers are convinced all the words are deserving.

"On one hand, I do appreciate feeling slightly more connected to the college students who live down the street," wrote Lane Brown for The Christian Science Monitor in 2014, the year that "amazeballs" and "binge-watch" were ushered into the OED:

However, as a mom who narrates most of my mundane daily activities for the sake of a toddler just learning to speak, I don’t want him anywhere near these new terms, at least not for some time to come. I personally don’t think anyone should be allowed to devolve into slang and shorthand abbreviations until they've actually mastered the English language first.

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