Sunday, September 8, 2013

To Add or Not To Add, That is the Question

Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The 'twerks' and 'selfies' of outrageous Oxford,
Or to take pen against these buzzworthies,
And by unliking end them: to squee, to say
"Whatevs!" And to tweet to say we must end
The 'LOLs,' and the shocks of a thousand 'OMGs'
That English is heir to?

Now, that we've gotten the obligatory bad butchering of Shakespeare out of the way, let us commence.

I may joke about being a stodgy old traditionalist when it comes to language, but the raw shock and actual disdain about certain words being added to the dictionary makes no sense. The dictionary is not prescriptive; it is descriptive. Which, until I Googled right now to make sure I was using prescriptive correctly, I did not realize was actually a very large epistemological fight. So, let me weigh in, with a bit from Oxford as well.

The dictionary's job is to tell us how language is. The rules of grammar are prescriptive, to some extent. SVO languages are SVO languages. Just deal, move on. Dictionaries tell us that boy is often a noun that means a young human male, usually teenage or younger [also, used offensively, familiarly, or as an exclamation, such as 'Boy howdy!'] I could, however, tell you how to use the word, prescriptively, for example: "It is rude to refer to a grown man as boy, being significantly more than rude when addressing an African-American male." The dictionary's job is not to make everyone stop using offensive language. It has its own prime directive, we can say.

[Another, more famous, example, of how regionalism can impact language.]

We can't let the idea that language has an ideal get in the way of seeing how things are. Sort of like in politics, personal relationships, or anything else. The world is a certain way; people use twerk, sometimes even unironically! Do we want people to have to say "She was dancing in a sexually suggestive, overly exaggerated manner, by thrusting close to the ground?" Or, can we say, "She's twerking" and know what we all mean?

[Sidenote: When I heard 'twerk' used first, I didn't have a dictionary. The context told me it was a verb, and 'twerk' sounds to me like a portmanteau of twist and jerk, so I had a general idea what was meant before I asked 'What does that word mean?']

If you don't like a word, don't use it. I can think of a number of words I dislike, so I don't use, without even getting into vulgarities. But, the dictionary's job isn't to shield your virgin ears.



As a reminder: This Friday will be the 13th. Make do of that what you will. For now, though, I'm steadily working towards finding a new niche for this blog, since the most recent writing project ended. I have a few other projects bouncing around in my head, I just need to decide what will be next. I'm torn between a new writing project, or picking up on a game to design/tweak (or to dive fully back into RPG Maker.) In the next few days, I want to talk about Final Fantasy 14.

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