By Barry Lord
Our language is evolving all the time.
Today a single word can sum up an entire philosophy, incorporate human emotions and aspects of gender identity.
And the editors at the Oxford English Dictionary have been quick to recognise these facts.
Once we would have to consult an online urban dictionary – failing that, the nearest 14-year-old – for the meaning of the word YOLO (an acronym of ‘You Only Live Once’) or ‘Gender Fluid’.
But now these two examples have been recorded and described concisely in the latest tome.
You will also find food-related terms including chefdom and cheese ball (as I write this, a red squiggle has appeared under both words. Microsoft Word will be getting a few new dictionary additions!) and curious hybrids like Yogalates – which is simply the combination of yoga and Pilates, and Westminster bubble, an insular community of politicians.
Also notable is the addition of gender-fluid, a term describing someone who doesn’t necessarily identify as male or female — or who might feel female one day and male the next.
Young people are seemingly more ambiguous in how they categorise their gender identity and it appears that our language is accommodating these changes.
Indeed much work has been undertaken to discover the meaning behind these shifts of expression, particularly in the area of gender ambiguity.
U.S. Website Fusion carried out a survey among millennial teens and their findings – also published in The Guardian – revealed that young people are now increasingly challenging the more conventional gender stereotypes – half of those spoken to believed that gender isn’t limited to male and female.
OkCupid and Facebook have also been quick to acknowledge these changes by offering custom gender identities to include a variety of options such as “androgynous”.
In America, some universities accept gender-neutral pronouns – allowing students to be called “they” rather than “he” or “she”.
And what else can we find within these pages?
While some men learn possibly too late in life what ‘moobs’ are, the dictionary provides a helpful explanation.
Also, the word “fuhgeddaboudit” frequently uttered by TV mobster Tony Soprano (portrayed on-screen by the late James Gandolfini in the long running HBO series The Sopranos) would no doubt chortle at his distinctly New Jersey parlance leaving its mark on modern English.
And what better way to celebrate the centenary of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory creator Roald Dahl’s birth than the publishing of a series of “Dahlesque” entries based on the author’s writing, including Oompa Loompa, scrumdiddlyumptious and human bean.
Guardians and protectors of the English language may find all this tampering with the mother tongue unpalatable in many ways, but Oxford editor Kathryn Martin has a different take.
“It’s an evocative way to bring personality into the written word,” says Martin, speaking to Time Magazine.
“While arguments about whether it should be ’Merica or ’Murica might lead to fisticuffs in some quarters, a dominant spelling of the even the most outlandish spoken phrases typically rises above the rest.”
So whether we choose to embrace or deflect these changes is up to us, but one thing is now guaranteed: these words are here to stay.