If future generations remember nothing else about us, we can be sure they’ll know we loved to abbrev things. And use our smartphones. And Twitter.
Oxford Dictionaries Online is adding another batch of up-and-coming words to its database, immortalizing the zeitgeist of 2012. Among this quarter’s newbies are deets, as in details; boyf, as in boyfriend; and retcon, shorthand for a piece of new information–in a movie, for example–that imposes a different interpretation on a previously described plot. Retcon is short for “retroactive continuity,” and it’s a way of making subsequent sequels jibe with an already-established narrative. (The most famous example of a retcon in modern movies consists of Darth Vader’s five little words: “No, I am your father.”)
Also on the list are technical terms like 4G, an abbreviation of “fourth generation,”and LTE, an acronym for “Long Term Evolution” — both of which refer to mobile communications standards. Big data made the cut, too. Oxford defines this buzzy tech word in a narrow sense, as data sets that are so large or complex that we can’t mine them. That term can also serve as a catchall for this era we live in, where unprecedented rivers of data are flooding out of everything from social networks to planet rovers.
Twitter usage drove several of the new words, as it often has in recent years. Oxford defines “First World problem” — a phrase popularized via Twitter hashtag — as “a relatively trivial or minor problem … implying a contrast with serious problems such as those that may be experienced in the developing world.” For example, an American might tweet “All my caviar spoons are dirty. #FirstWorldProblems.” Other satirical takes on this include “#hipsterproblems,” such as “The new iPhone still isn’t slim enough to fit in my skinny jeans.”
After Oxford Dictionaries’ last addition in August, which included terms such as the evil-laugh approximator mwahahaha, one critic pronounced that “It’s official, we are all going to hell and lexicographers are leading the way.” Certainly, it does seem like kids today should be working a little harder than boyf. But there are a few things we might note before anyone starts prophesying the death of the English language. For one thing, these are additions for the much more adaptable online branch of the Oxford dictionary family, not for the benchmark Oxford English Dictionary itself. Two: more additions are always better than fewer if we view the dictionary a reference tool rather than a kingmaker. Three, these quarterly additions are chock full of slang, and slang is meant to buck the very authorities who would probably place a high value on $10 words in the first place.
That said, here are some more highlights from the list:
dance-off (n.): a competition, or a round in a competition, in which a number of dancers compete against each other until a winner is declared
Godwin’s law (n.): the theory that as an online discussion progresses, it becomes inevitable that someone or something will eventually be compared to Adolf Hitler or the Nazis, regardless of the original topic
mumblecore (n.):a style of low-budget film typically characterized by the use of non-professional actors and naturalistic or improvised performances
twitterpated (adj): infatuated or obsessed; in a state of nervous excitement
veepstakes (n.): the notional competition among politicians to be chosen as a party’s candidate for vice president