ONLINE TODAY THE URBAN DICTIONARY boasts that it has clocked up 5,762,970 definitions since 1999, a space of 12 years. Its contributors are mostly aged under 25. In contrast, the Oxford Engish Dictionary, bedrock of the language since 1928, boasts only 600,000 entries plus probably as many more variations on headwords, drawn from all of literature.
Have we all stopped talking proper? Has slang become the ephemeral new lingua franca of digital social media?
While the great and good-humoured Dr Johnson, creator of our first enduring English dictionary in 1755, enjoyed robust slang he would exclude low social neologisms as “cant”. The writing is on the wall in today’s Guardian. One linguistic historian declares that the internet is now the future for lexicography, but what he really means is tweeting and texting. Here’s the gist of Johnny Davis’s feature…
❚ THE OTHER WEEK the two dudes who created South Park were on TV recalling how they had attended the Academy Awards in drag, hairy-chested on the red carpet in knock-off gowns inspired by Ralph Lauren and Versace. They’d found the courage to overcome earlier cold feet.
“We did some Charlie Sheening and we were fine,” Trey Parker explained. “We were just sheening our heads off,” agreed Matt Stone.
The social media went to work. “Apparently sheening is a new verb,” tweeted one viewer. “The new name for wasted,” wrote another. In fact the new name for wasted had already been recorded three months earlier by Urban Dictionary, the online open source directory of slang phrases and neologisms. Sheening, it says, is “an alcohol and blow extravaganza, sometimes ending in a hospital stay and/or death. Referencing the amazing behaviour of the actor Charlie Sheen.”
Sheening was not the only example of slang to make the news recently. Days after the South Park pair appeared on TV, The Oxford English Dictionary published its latest online update. Included for the first time were the internet-era initialisms OMG, BFF and LOL. Sexting was in there; as were Wags and muffin top (“referring to a protuberance of flesh above the waistband of a tight pair of trousers, cf, spare tyre, love handle”).
“Someone wrote that the OED finally thinking muffin top worthy of including was a bit disturbing,” says Urban Dictionary’s founder, Aaron Peckham, from his home in California. “Like your dad suddenly deciding that Whassup! was worthy of repeated, loud public use.”
The condition where you think of something you want to Google, but by the time you get to your computer, you have forgotten what it was. Very prevalent in the 420 community.
(eg — I’ve got Googleheimer’s so bad that between the garage and the office, I forgot what I was going to look up)