Friday, August 22, 2014

Searching for the right word

I have heard several news reports through various media outlets recently about some new words being officially added to our vocabulary. Evidently both the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary have made some new additions that have sneaked into present-day parlance. Among my favorites are fratty (characteristic of a college fraternity or its members, often with reference to rowdy behavior,) binge-watch (watch multiple episodes of a television program in rapid succession, typically by means of DVDs or digital streaming), amazeballs (extremely good or impressive; amazing), cray (crazy), neckbeard (a man who is socially inept and physically unappealing, especially one who has an obsessive interest in computing), and adorbs (inspiring great delight; cute or adorable).

Who gets to make up words? It has always interested me that when you see the size of your common dictionary, someone has come up with each and every one of those words. Somebody looked at a skunk one day and had the presence of mind to call it a skunk. And then they had to think up words to describe it. That goes for every word that has ever been invented such as hammer, cheeseburger and Lady Gaga.

Was there ever any discussion about any particular word after it was thought up? Did people argue over the aforementioned skunk on whether or not that was the proper, descriptive name for the animal? Or did Noah Webster just take it upon himself to list "skunk" and his definition in that little book he wrote.

I have always imagined that there is an office located down a long, darkened hallway of an old, dilapidated brick building somewhere, that you go to have words OKed and placed in the English vernacular. The office is probably located in Pueblo, Colo., because it seems like a lot of offices are located there.

The office would be called something really spiffy like "The Office of the Guy Who Makes Up Words." (Sorry ladies, but I've always pictured this as being a position held by a man because I'm kind of a sexist pig.) There would be this tall, lanky fellow, possibly wearing a moth-eaten, green cardigan, sitting in a squeaky chair behind a big, oaken desk. He would have really thick, smudgy, wire-rimmed glasses and an awesome, cheesy-looking mustache filled with cracker crumbs. Those orange crackers with the peanut butter sandwiched in-between. His name would probably be Allan. Allan with an a, not Allen with an e.

He would do his work in Helvetica mainly, sometimes in Arial or Times but never, and I mean never in Comic Sans. In the back corner of the office, there would be a big black anvil and a forge filled with red-hot glowing embers because after all, Allan is a wordsmith. At this anvil, he would heat, pound, shape and combine letters until a word was produced. Allan would get to make the final call on whether or not it was a good word like "skunk" or just something stupid like "amazeballs."

When he was a young man, Allan used to come up with good words like honor, pride, and liberty. You know, the kind of words guys like Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln used to bandy about. Lately he has forged words like hashtag, selfie, bromance, staycation, truthiness and twerk. Apparently, Allan's losing his touch.

With the present crop of words that have officially made their way into our lingo, I'm starting to believe that Allan might not exist or maybe he just doesn't care as much as he used to. It seems like anything can be a word anymore.

And that worries me. My fear is that by the time my daughter grows up, everyone will be communicating to each other with pithy little phrases made up of dumb words and crazy abbreviations.

But then again, maybe I'm just a cray neckbeard that just needs to chillax.


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"Nothing is not Something" on GO Comics.
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