How did these words make it into the dictionary?
Language is used to decipher the world in which we live, and that world is ever-changing. So are the words we use to describe it. Dictionaries keep track of words that are important enough to make the cut, including the seemingly strange ones that are culturally relevant at a certain point in time. In the past decade, some of those words have been downright funny. Why? Elin Asklöv, a language expert at Babbel, explains it’s because “we have a feeling they’re made up, and it’s funny to see them in a serious context in a dictionary, when in reality, all words are made up.” Here are a few recent additions to some very serious dictionaries that might surprise you – and make you giggle.
In our fast-paced, tech-driven world, it can be tempting to shorten your words, especially when writing online. Social media has a big influence on language, according to Asklöv. Meh is essentially the verbal equivalent of shrugging. It might sound surprising that such a meh word was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but Asklöv isn’t surprised. “A lot of the words they’re adding come from informal settings, like through social media,” she explains. “It then travels to other types of media, gains popularity and becomes common enough to be added to the dictionary.”
Merriam-Webster, which added this word in 2015, defines twerking as “sexually suggestive dancing characterised by rapid, repeated hip thrusts and shaking of the buttocks especially while squatting.” That may be the least hip way to describe twerking, says Kevin Lockett, author of The Digital Handbook 2020. But despite the clinical definition of the dance that was popularised by Miley Cyrus, Lockett gives kudos to the dictionary for including the word at all. After all, even though it seems like a silly thing to put in a formal book of language, twerking has – for better or worse – been culturally important to an entire generation.