So that’s it. Another year done and dusted and stuck on a shelf in the memory vault. With 89 years already banked, the shelf is getting a little crowded and one or two of the jars seem to be leaking. The older ones storing decades of old memories seem to be holding up better than the more recent ones.
Maybe they made the memory jars stronger 80-plus years ago. It is a fact that I can recall events, times, places and names from childhood faster than I can recall the name of the person I talked to yesterday. And there are days when I wonder why a red line is showing beneath a word on my laptop. I know the red line is alerting me to the fact that the word is misspelled; I know that in such matters the computer never lies, but I have to reach for the dictionary to check its challenge.
And in this day and age, that huge receptacle of words does not always bring instant comfort. The editor of the Oxford English Dictionary informed readers a few days ago that as years go by, words sometimes change in spelling and meaning or become totally redundant and replaced with brand-new words.
In the U.S. a few years ago, when the Merriam Webster Dictionary’s publishers recognized their massive flagship of words no longer catered to all tastes, they launched the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary to cater to college students who no longer understood or used the language of their parents.
As 2012 ended, both dictionary publishers issued their latest list of new words, Oxford for its major tome, Merriam Webster for its Collegiate Dictionary.
Oxford offers its readers words that have become common usage on the street and are now worthy of recognition in the ranks of acceptable English.
Oxford says it prefers to list “new” words that have been around for at least 10 years, a statement I found amusing because I had never heard or read any on the list, not even the three I found most appealing.
There was “sillage,” which I am informed refers to the delicate whiff of perfume left behind by an attractive woman as she walks down a city street.
Nobody seems to know who created “sillage” or where it was first used. It just appeared — and is now officially listed as Oxford English.
Second on my new word list is one created by the smart-phone generation, those who find it impossible to walk a block without texting a friend who could be on the other side of the city or clicking right alongside them.
Heads down, thumbs flicking, they ignore pedestrians and vehicles, whether they are driving one or challenging one as they blindly cross a street; they refer to landline phones and cellphones used only for talking as “dumbphones.” It is now an official word although my laptop still underlines it — and “sillage” — in red.
Third on my list and described by Oxford as the best new word of 2012 is clearly redlined — “Omnishambles.”
I am told it was first used in a television serial in the U.K. and quickly became the word to describe chaos as in Boxing Day sales, question period in the B.C. legislature, a teenaged boy’s bedroom or the kitchen and dining room after a family-reunion dinner.
Not to be outdone, Merriam Webster offers college students words and phrases more familiar to Canadian eyes and ears, but which, until last year, would not be found in its dictionaries. It was a little surprising to learn that “systemic risk — the risk that the failure of one institution could cause other interconnected institutions to fail” was new to dictionary pages.
Old words with new meanings included “underwater” — which still means just what it says but can now also be legitimately used (at least in U.S. colleges) to describe “a mortgage loan on which more is owed than the property securing the loan is worth.”
Pop culture won recog-nition for “man cave” and the college kids won a dictionary spot for “gastropub” — but it isn’t clear whether it should be used to describe a pub serving wonderful food or the opposite.
Among my American favourites are “earworm — to describe a song or melody that keeps repeating in one’s mind”; and “sexting — the sending of sexually explicit messages or images by cell phone.”
Some of the brightest and most powerful men and women in the world have fallen from grace by “sexting ” — and all appeared surprised when it was demonstrated that although the “dumbphone” and the “smartphone” may now hold equal status in dictionaries, the “dumbphone” is the smarter choice for, shall we say, delicate conversations.
Oh, and before I forget. Thank you for your support, encouragement and sometimes whiplash challenges and critiques in 2012.
All are appreciated. I hope the next 51 weeks of 2013 bring you good health and that the kindness you extend to others returns to you tenfold.
© Copyright 2013