Last year ‘selfie’ and ‘twerk’ entered the dictionary, demonstrating the influence of popular culture on the development of our language. However, many commonly used words and phrases have yet to make it into the dictionary; the choice to legitimise a word in the dictionary can solidify usage and mark it out as a key representation of modern culture.
Historically, our language derives from a variety of sources; English is known as a language combining a myriad of linguistic roots from Germanic to Slavic. The British Isles were invaded repeatedly throughout ancient history as empires swept through Europe, so English is a sort of ‘borrowing language’. Later, English would adopt new words from the cultures it encountered during the colonialist ventures of the British Empire. Over time our language has constantly reshaped itself according to our needs; surprisingly, the language of Shakespeare is classed alongside ours as ‘Modern English’ in spite of the dramatically different linguistic range and syntax.
The new entries on this list show the effects of American slang on the modern English language. They reveal, too, the increasingly informal attitudes to language which new communication technologies have facilitated. A wide variety of slang terms are entering common language more quickly than ever before as communication becomes streamlined and tailored to accommodate ‘written speech’ efficiency and character limits via text and on Twitter.
Unfortunately for avid Scrabble players who may be looking at this list as a way of gaining a handful more points next game, there is only one new word in the Scrabble dictionary this year – geocache is the first addition to their dictionary in 8 years! Perhaps the Scrabble dictionary is a bit more discerning than the Oxford English?
The following are just 10 of the most popular new words in our dictionary this year – from brands to slang these words provide an insight into our culture as they consider the ways in which we develop language in an age of increased communication.
Although it is new to the dictionary, these vocal musicians can date their art back thousands of years. ‘Bol’ (from India) and ‘Kouji’ (from China) have each been cited as possible origins of the art, although no discernable link has been shown between them and modern hip-hop (where most beat boxers can be found nowadays). Doug E. Fresh described himself as the first ‘human beatbox’ in 1984 and the art has grown in popularity ever since. Last year the largest human beatbox ensemble (involving 4,659 participants) was recorded in the Netherlands by Booking.com employees. Beatboxers have featured in the recordings of many famous artists (including Björk and Beardyman).
9. Crap shoot
Described as a ‘risky enterprise’ this slang phrase accurately describes the attitudes of many working on Wall Street. Leonardo Dicaprio’s portrayal of Jordan Belfort in the recent hit ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ most accurately depicts a ‘crap shooter’ as he uses the money of his investors irresponsibly to gamble on the stock market. The phrase originally refers to the dice-rolling game ‘Craps’, where players bet on the roll of a dice (the game requires no skill beyond the ability to roll a dice and so success or failure is entirely based on luck).
Any of us who regularly fly, or take the train, will be accustomed to the combined simplicity and hassle of an Eticket. On one hand they give us the power to check ourselves in and save time at the airport; however, on the other, this means that when we print the wrong page, click the wrong button or bring the wrong piece of paper the responsibility lies solely in our hands. Particularly in the case of budget airlines, a misprinted Eticket can lead to additional charges. Irish airline Ryanair famously charges customers a shocking £60 (about $100) Boarding Card Reissue Fee for arriving with an inadmissible boarding card (including those whose barcode does not scan for any reason).
Hero-worship has been in the dictionary for a number of years, and with a plethora of available heroines it is about time ‘Heroine-worship’ became an official component to our language. Worshipping leading ladies has become the norm in Hollywood and figures including Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) and the hilarious cast of Lena Dunham’s ‘Girls’ have been rightly placed on their pedestals. Significant feminine figures of power in politics and media have also been lauded by the modern world (women such as Michelle Obama and Oprah wield their power over public opinion, whilst Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton make real changes to the world around us).
6. Chugger / chugging
‘Chugging’ already carried connotations of drinking something, usually rapidly. But now it has another official meaning: Combining the words ‘charity’ and ‘mugger’ these clipboard-wielding fundraisers may mean well, but their tactics for extracting money from passers-by can range from the manipulative to the downright dishonest. Often criticised for their invasive tactics and commission-based motivation, many say that their presence on the high-street has intensified public apathy toward charitable causes. Britain’s largest homeless charity was even forced to suspend its street-fundraising after an investigation revealed that ‘chuggers’ were misrepresenting the use of donations and inventing facts to shock passers-by. Finally, after years of being harassed on our high-streets, this slang term for street fundraising has entered the dictionary (definitively aligning their work to mugging).
A term for ‘best friend’, having a ‘bestie’ has entered our vernacular through tween and internet slang. Last year a South Korean girl group formed under the name, using text acronyms and colloquialisms throughout their lyrics to align themselves with a younger market. But having a very public ‘bestie’ isn’t just for teenage girls; Bradley Cooper and Gerard Butler showed off their friendship at Wimbledon last year (hugging and taking ‘selfies’ of each-other as they cheered on Andy Murray). Of course, ‘besties’ have been around long before social media, selfies and Facebook relationship statuses were even conceptualised – close friends Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are frequently snapped on holiday together dressed up in their signature Waiting for Godot bowler hats.
From the Yiddish ‘to sweat’ it is surprising that this verb has only just made it into the dictionary given the popularity of documentary film ‘The Shvitz’ back in 1993 (which looks inside the steam baths of modern America). ‘Shvitzing’ is used to describe water loss by professional fighters in order to make weight for a fight. However, shvitzing is not the first example of Yiddish repatriated into the English language; indeed there has been a long history of Jewish slang entering the vernacular (including chutzpah, glitch, klutz and shtick). Given the massive influence of Jewish performers in comedy and TV dramas, we can probably expect the introduction of many more expressive Yiddish phrases to the English language.
3. Toilet-paper (verb), TP
TPing (or Toilet-papering) a property has become a staple practical joke for high schoolers and college students alike. Easy and cheap to do, the effects can be dramatic (and time-consuming to clean up) as houses and trees are shrouded in a covering of white tissue paper. However, any potential pranksters should be warned that TPing a house is illegal, considered an act of vandalism and trespassing. TPing had serious consequences in Alabama this January as a woman attempted to clear up the prank by setting fire to it, accidentally burning down her house (… although given the idiocy of this idea we can’t really blame the pranksters for this one).
Almost 45 years after its invention, the Blu-Tack brand remains the most popular reusable adhesive (in spite of a number of cheaper copy-cats). Like other successful inventions, its composition remains a secret, although the tack has several unique properties (including the fact it can be swallowed without harm, reducing its potential threat to children). Although it is inextricably linked to its iconic colour, the product has also been produced in novelty colours (including pink as part of a breast cancer campaign and green for Halloween).
Following in the footsteps of the f-word, this profanity can now be used as an adjective, verb and adverb. The over-use of swear words has traditionally led to the diminishment of their effect, so we can predict that this currently shocking slur will lose its power in coming years as its use becomes broader and more varied. The word was once in common usage during the Middle Ages (when presumably there was more to swear about) and fell into disuse during the eighteenth century, returning once more in the 20th. The word is rarely broadcast, as it has been judged the most offensive word which can be heard by audiences. Bernard Manning was the first to use it on television (using a reference Rob Ford has recently come under fire for).