Should we be adding new words to the dictionary?

Written by Arts

Recent years have seen the addition of millennial phrases such as ‘bougie’, ‘selfie’ and ‘hangry’ into our beloved, ancient and much-loved language, and by extension, into our dictionaries. This has been met with mixed reviews, buta heavy emphasis on the negative. It would seem the majority of people aren’t a fan of blighting such a prestigious language around the world with such modern dysphemisms as these, imposed upon us by the careless youths of today.

‘Language is a cross-generational concept- why do you think your grandparents are so good at crosswords?’

This I find quite puzzling. The English language as a concept, beloved and celebrated as it may be, is nothing more than a patchwork jumble of other languages chucked together. Its earliest appearance was in the mid fifth century, and even then it was brought to us by Anglo-Saxon settlers. After that it was moulded and adapted by various invaders like the Vikings and the French until it became what we’ve got today – modern English, which features those oh-so-English words like baguette and bourgeois. It is fortunate that there weren’t the same traditionalist protestors in those days, as they would’ve had their heads chopped off and raised on a pike. At least the “bladdy awful youthful colloquialism nonsense” we’re seeing added to our dictionaries are coming from people who live here, rather than people who’ve invaded us again. If anything, we should be celebrating the fact that we are coming up with our own terms rather than just stealing them from another language. You only need to watch one episode of Horrible Histories to realise that the majority of our words come from either Greek or Germanic origin, and the rest are all Latin-based, just like every other language.

So far in 2018, there have been over 2000 new words, senses and sub-entries into the Oxford English Dictionary, and unsurprisingly, even the young in society don’t understand all of them. But it is foolish to imagine we would. Language is a cross-generational concept- why do you think your grandparents are so good at crosswords? I’ll tell you why- they’ve lived longer and learnt more words, both old and new. I can assure you that crosswords when we’re their age will look very different than how they do now. And so they should. If every language had shunned new additions into its vocabulary, they would not only be extremely boring things to learn, speak, read and write, but they also wouldn’t be able to articulate the progress of the human race. Why do you think Shakespeare invented so many new words? We need words to communicate as our lives change, with the development of technology, transport, and social hierarchy, we need the words to talk about them. Sometimes traditional ones just won’t suffice.

Having said this, it is important to preserve the language we already have, but this preservation should not stand in the way of progression. As we have for centuries through the influence of other languages, we can embellish our language without forgetting its bread and butter (which by the way comes from the Latin butyrum, which is the Latinisation of the Greek term- I rest my case).

Last modified: 25th February 2019

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