Yes, U.S. capital markets have officially gone "Full Seinfeld"; As ConvergEX's Nick Colas notes, Tuesday’s selloff over “Nothing” reversed higher Wednesday throuygh Friday for similarly non-specific reasons. So, today we will go a little further afield and talk about words and what they tell us about shifting societal priorities and norms. Wonder what the most commonly searched word might be on the Merriam-Webster website? It is “Pragmatic”... which seems incredibly ironic given the total lack of pragmatism that appears to be shown in world markets.
Via ConvergEx's Nick Colas,
Merriam-Webster just added over 150 new words to its official English dictionary, for example. Technological terms dominate the published list, including “Big data”, “crowdfunding”, “hashtag”, “gamification”, “selfie”, “tweep” and “social networking”. New words in any language highlight innovation and societal relevance. These examples are further proof that human interaction is changing at a very basic level. Otherwise, why would we need so many new words to describe these shifts?
Consider the following facts about the constantly evolving state of the English language and society’s interest in accurate communication:
Google searches in the U.S. for the word “Dictionary” are down by over 60% since 2005. Holdout states that still search for this staple of the 20th century librarian’s reference desk include California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York.
The same applies for searches in the United Kingdom for the term “OED”, or Oxford English Dictionary – down over 60% since the mid-2000s. The Welsh seem to care the most about this most famous – and comprehensive – of all English language reference sources. The Scottish and Northern Irish… Not so much.
Both Merriam-Webster and the OED are fighting back, regularly publicizing new words as they add them to their publications. On the British front, the Oxford English Dictionary folks added “Bestie” (a best friend), “beat boxer” and the verb “demo”. That’s a pretty hip list, considering that the OED must have evidence that a word has been in wide public use for 10 years before it even considers adding it. The Merriam-Webster people are more relaxed, and this week added 150 new words.
The most striking thing about the new MW words is just how tech-heavy they are: “Big Data”, “crowdfunding”, “hashtag” and “tweep”, just to name a few examples. The last 2 show that Merriam-Webster doesn’t adhere to the 10 year rule of their British cousins, since Twitter was not even founded until 2006. Oh, and do NOT look at the words added list to the OED while at work. The Oxford English Dictionary is famously complete, so anything gets in as long as it fits the criteria of multiple points of printed usage. That seems to include published missives that begin “I never thought I‘d be writing this…” There is a link to the March 2014 list at the end of this note if you must see for yourself.
Think of dictionary word additions as the linguistic equivalent of the inclusion of a stock into a widely followed index. It means that word – or that company – has essentially arrived. They are relevant not just in the moment, but as a part of society as whole right now and (hopefully) for a long time to come. Merriam-Webster keeps a running list of user-submitted suggested words, but you can tell most of these aren’t going to make the cut. A few examples, fresh from the website:
“Woot”: an exclamation of joy or excitement
“Bougie”: short for bourgeois – ostentatiously middle class
“Ginormous”: Extraordinarily large
To make it to the big leagues in the word game in the 21st century, you need that techie feel. Consider new MW entrant “Gamification” – the process of turning a piece of work into a socially oriented web-enabled game. Or “Social networking” – how that one got past the Merriam-Webster staff until now is a bit perplexing. And there is even room for some new wine in old bottles. “Catfish” no longer only means the thing you fry and eat on a Po Boy in New Orleans. A catfish is now also someone who sets up a fake social networking profile for the purposes of deceiving others. And who can forget the breakthrough narcissistic cell phone camera sensation of the last 12 months – the “Selfie”. Yes, that made it into MW this year.
Of course, the rise of Internet search engines is doing to dictionaries what Mapquest did to Rand McNally and what Craigslist did to countless local newspapers. Kill them. When you read a word you don’t know, you don’t search for a dictionary any more than you look for a Thomas Guide when you are lost in Los Angeles. Consider the following autofills from Google and how they point to an increasingly tech-centric world:
“What is…” The most commonly entered phrases in the U.S. to complete this query are: “My IP address”, “bitcoin”, “a charter shool”, “a thot”, and “Coachella”, in that order. Technology again, at least for the two most commonly queried terms. Coachella was over weeks ago, by the way. And don’t ask about “Thot”.
“How do I…” The most common autofills here are “Love thee” (sweet), “Get” or “Renew” a passport (summer vacation), “take a screen shot” and “delete my facebook account” (job interviews?). Technology queries in the top 5 here as well.
Most Googled actors in April 2014: Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, and Stephen Colbert. In the age of the encyclopedia, most of these personalities would never have made the cut during their lifetimes or in the hereafter. And the most Googled question of 2013 was “What is twerking?” Enough said.
As a final thought: Merriam-Webster’s website has a thought-provoking feature: a list of the most searched words over the last 1 and 7 days as well as the last 4 months. In that last category, the most searched word over the last 120 days is “Pragmatic”. For the record, MW defines this as “Dealing with the problems that exist in a specific situation in a reasonable and logical way instead of depending on ideas and theories.” It is heartening that website visitors want to know what that word means. And a bit concerning that they have to look it up.