Ernest Hemingway once said that he looked at words as if he were seeing them for the very first time. Since new words emerge constantly he was, at least part of the time, literally correct.
Lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary add a certain number of new words and phrases to their already enormous list every few years and grant them official sanction. Then nitpickers and Scrabble players can utter the sacred validation: “it’s in the dictionary.” Or, more impressively, “it’s in the OED.” Back in 2011 I perused the new batch in my weekly newspaper column. Here’s some of what I found.
“Sheeple” made the list; it’s a noun meaning unquestioning followers, a combination of sheep and people. And “flyover states” got in. That’s a derogatory designation for the central region of the nation, the states that don’t matter nearly as much demographically as, say, California or New York. Times do change; don’t they? Those states in the middle used to be called the heartland, which was a good thing.
Other nouns that got the nod in 2011 were “zombie bank” (an insolvent bank that survives through government support), “locavore” (one who primarily eats locally grown food), “buzzkill” (a person or thing that has a depressing effect), “toxic debt” (debt that has a high risk of default), “frenemy” (a friend with whom one has frequent conflict), “bromance” (a close platonic male friendship), “gal pal” (a female friend), “LBD” (the famous and essential little black dress), and “hater” (a negative person), and “staycation” (vacationing at home). Gas prices in 2011 made that last word a handy one.
Some words that were already in the dictionary got additional definitions. “Friend”, one of the most ancient and meaningful of nouns, became – thanks to social networks like Face Book – a verb. And, since we often changed our minds about who we friended, we needed another of the newly sanctioned words: “unfriend.” Then there’s “viral”, which used to just mean a type of infection. Now it became an adjective meaning something that circulates widely and rapidly through the internet. “Cougar” used to be just an animal; now it was also an older woman who dates younger men. “Pimp” used to mean – well, you know what it meant – but then it got another definition: to make something more showy or impressive.
A big bevy of verbs made it in . “Chillax” means to calm down and relax, and “riff” is to expound on a particular subject. “Hypermile” means to alter a car to maximize its fuel economy. And there’s “rock”, one of the oldest of nouns – and things, come to think of it – and now it’s officially also a verb, meaning to do something in a confident, flamboyant way. Another noun that crossed over into verb territory was “heart.” It’s always had a dual meaning: the literal pump that keeps our blood flowing (as in “heart attack”) and the more metaphorical sense of concern or affection (as in “you’re in my heart”). But now it’s also a verb, meaning to like or love someone or something. Now you can heart someone.
Another old standard, “own”, has always been a verb. But in this modern dog-eat-dog age it doesn’t just mean to possess something but to “utterly defeat or humiliate someone.”
Modern communication technology was represented by “microblog” (to post very short entries on a blog) and several snippets commonly used in texting, like LOL, BFT, OMG, and “wassup?”
I’ve always found words, new and old, to be fascinating. I heart them.
My personal favorite of the new batch that showed up in the 2011 edition of the OED is “automagically”, meaning something being automatically done in a way that almost seems magical. Like GPS . Or the word-count button on my computer.
Feel free to share new words that have been born since 2011. But I’d best stop here, lest this become a macroblog.