Social media, slang and dictionaries

There were many words I didn’t know when I was younger. Whenever I came across an unfamiliar term I’d ask my parents what it meant. They always told me the same thing: look it up. If I really wanted to know—and I usually did—I would take the dictionary down from the shelf in the living room and find the definition.

A couple of decades later and, although I’ve tried, I still haven’t learned all the words. I use dictionaries quite a bit. Sometimes it’s for work, but often it’s for personal use. I usually find what I’m looking for, but things get tricky when it comes to slang.

I don’t use a lot of new slang, but I don’t have anything against it. However, there are many people who don’t think slang belongs in the dictionary.


But words aren’t added into the dictionary arbitrarily. Lexicographers conduct thorough research to determine if a word should enter the dictionary or not. A word or term must demonstrate common use and a history within the English language.




Increasing activity on social media sites shows why dictionaries continue to be important. Acronyms are constantly being created. (There was lots of discussion when OMG and LOL were entered into the Oxford English Dictionary in March.) Words already established in our vernacular have developed new meanings. Facebook’s friend and Twitter’s follow are two examples.

Hopefully authoritative texts such as the OED will continue to define slang. I want to understand what people are saying; that’s what it comes down to. But no matter how hard I’m laughing out loud at that funny thing you wrote, I’ll still comment with a ha-ha.


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