Let's dissect the new words


Words are good.

Spoken or written, words relay our thoughts, our messages, our feelings and emotions. Different languages can be translated to convey the meaning of the words and, when grouped together just the right way, they can sound, well, pretty.

I’ve heard that mathematics is the one “true” language, a method of communicating and explaining that is the same, regardless of ethnicity, background or regional dialect. Numbers are numbers and their individual values are the same to everyone, the mathematics pundits say.

Apparently they never saw me try to grapple with pi or any number of geometry problems in my youth.

There are also those who sing the praises of body language. These body language apologists say that closed arms, stiff shoulders or a simple wagging of the finger can be correctly interpreted by anyone observant enough to look. Fair enough, but do you really get to understand why your wife is standing there with one hand on her hip and the other wrapped around a rather ominous looking frying pan unless you ask?

Of course, asking might not be your best avenue of recourse in that situation. I remember once ...

But I digress.

For me, the word is the thing. In writing, each of us have his or her own personal style with words, whether we notice it or not. For instance, I miss reading Josh Miller’s somewhat flowery prose when he wrote feature stories for us, and I get a kick out of the combination of pseudo-intellectualism and down-home Sussex County native flair that Sam Harvey combines in his writing. I admire M. Patricia Titus for her Hemingway-esque style of never wasting a word while getting out every minutiae of information possible — all along maintaining a readable staccato rhythm, and I love how often John Denny tries to sneak in an expletive or two in his sports stories every week, while sticking to the flow of an observer explaining what he saw. Me? I’m a hack, but I do enjoy fiddling with words.

Bored yet?

What got me into this topic is the release Patricia sent me the other day via e-mail. Merriam-Webster recently announced the new words and senses that made the cut for the 11th edition of their dictionary. The listings of new words is not only the linguistic legitimizing of slang or word combinations, but we can also see the morphing of our pop culture into the traditions of our language.

For instance, new to this edition of the dictionary is brain freeze, DHS (Department of Homeland Security), hazmat, SARS, chick flick, Wi-Fi, otology and civil union. In 1,000 years, archaeologists could simply look at the above words allowed into this new version of the dictionary and determine that our culture recently accepted the brain locking agony of eating ice cream too fast, faced some sort of threat that required us to secure our borders, dealt with new and hazardous materials, saw a major illness arrive on the horizon, wept at ridiculous movies on dates, went wireless, developed a science dealing with the ear and its diseases and began discussions on the legal status of same-sex couples.

Ah, I forgot that bikini wax also made the cut in the new dictionary, thus legitimizing one of Bob Bertram’s hobbies.

I’m not exactly sure what the archaeologists will make of the last one, but let’s move on to a few of the words that I’m predicting will see some love in the 12th edition of the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

• Blog (noun): A method for truly boring people to put their truly boring lives into a truly boring diary for truly boring people to read on the Internet when they’re truly bored.

• Gotcha (noun): A device invented by a community newspaper editor that allows television viewers to push a button and shine bright lights and pipe in ear-splitting music that requires an otologist to the bedrooms of the producers of reality television programming.

• Moronia (noun): The study, and accompanying understanding, of that which caused people in the past to lack in common sense. The groundbreaking advances in the field led to the end of the phenomenon of people who couldn’t figure out how to make correct change, use turn signals or make land use decisions on county councils.

• Yikers (noun): The compressed expression on one’s face following the first sip of Irish whiskey on a Friday night.

• Nighters (noun): The satisfied, goofy expression on one’s face following the 1,724th sip of Irish whiskey early Saturday morning.

• Slappa (noun): The sound made when a reader strikes him or herself on the forehead for actually wasting the time to read a column about words.