I have often bemoaned the length of time it takes for the Oxford English Dictionary to include new words in its official annals. But I also recognise that the OED cannot include anything and everything as soon as it emerges, as it is the ultimate record of words in the English language and can only include those words that are here to stay.
But now there is evidence that things might be about to speed up, albeit that this is only in proportion to the previous tardiness. Alongside its raft of new but strangely familiar words, such as e-reader, dad dancing and fiscal cliff, the new OED update contains an expansion of the meaning of Tweet, to include its social media senses for both noun and verb.
What, I hear you say, it’s only just been included, surely that’s been around for ages. Correct, I retort, but in OED terms, it is still a veritable foetus, not yet born to lexicographical life. And yet it now appears. In what was termed ‘A Quiet Announcement’ in a piece by chief editor John Simpson, he said that the definition breaks an OED rule, namely that a word has to be in use for 10 years before being considered for inclusion, with Tweet in its Twitter sense numbering around six years. As a reason for inclusion, Mr Simpson jokes: “But it seems to be catching on.”
I wonder if this is a sign of things to come. Will the fact that things now ‘catch on’ much quicker mean that as time goes on, OED rules will finally become a little less stringent? Will the new speed with which words become entrenched in the language finally mean a new fast track to their official recognition. I do hope so. Language evolution has been changed forever by technology, and those who work in this world need to recognise and respond to that. Let this be the start of that change.