Words for our times

The latest version of the Collins English Dictionary has just been published, with some interesting new additions, including ‘iPlayer, ‘mankini’ (after Borat’s legendary garment), and ‘Twitter’.

The words that officially enter the language no doubt reflect the influences and preoccupations of our times. So, after looking over this year’s new entries, I couldn’t help but wonder: is the future of English completely ruled by television and technology?

Well, not completely. The explosion of the social media trend definitely makes its mark: from the names of key sites to phonetically spelled words and phrases (surely more likely to be instant messaged than looked up) such as ‘heh heh’, ‘mwah’ and ‘soz’.

However, our culture’s growing bent towards greener living is also represented, so we find out that an ‘ecolodge’ is a sustainable hotel, and to be ‘carborexic’ is to be ‘a person obsessed with reducing their carbon footprint’. Our fascination with celebrity-inspired trends combines neatly with the reality of living in the current economy in the word ‘frugalista’: ‘a person who tries to stay fashionably dressed on a budget’.

This does beg the question: does anyone actually use these words? Or have the writers at Collins just been having fun making them up?

Still, the question of technology’s power over the way we write (and speak) could be greater than we realise. As a society increasingly melded to our PCs, iPhones and MacBooks, our use of grammar could come to be ruled by Microsoft Word’s occasionally erratic placing of squiggly lines. But that’s another story…

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