Today’s lingo is adorkable, but also confusing

I like to believe I'm gravy noodles (someone really cool), but in fact I am a struggling old schooler trying to get my head around trendy neologisms.

I operate in two universes of communication. As a journalist, I cannot do without the AP Stylebook and the Oxford English Dictionary. But after work, I whip out a more commonly used language book that is diminishing the relevance of its sophisticated predecessors in daily discussions: the rapidly expanding Urban Dictionary.

I like to think that I’m gravy noodles (someone really cool) but, in fact, I am a struggling old-schooler trying to get my head around trendy neologisms.

Slang has been around forever and, of late, has been accorded a “get with the times” attitude, which has spread like wildfire across all ages online and, humorously, offline.

Some words are shortened and merged just for convenience, such as fo sho (for sure) and totes (totally). These are pretty much down to common sense, but then you have adorkable, which made its way into the Collins English Dictionary last month. Unless pop culture is your thing, that mash-up (adorable and dork) might be hard to fully comprehend. The dictionary now defines it as an adjective for someone who is socially inept or unfashionable, but in a charming or endearing way. How did it get in? The word was voted for by 30 per cent of the people who took part in the poll. Dictionary editors follow a general rule of thumb when it comes to selecting words for verified usage – it needs to be in high circulation for a decade or a dated word that has been revived in communication.

Their etymologies, however, are hard to determine. It could have emerged in a moment of boredom or creative block, like in the case of “adorkable”. The earliest mention of the word, as chronicled by Google, probably goes back to 2001 when a lovestruck blogger titled her page Adorkable. It exploded on the social scene with the American sitcom New Girl, starring the actress Zooey Deschanel. So dork, once a derogatory term, now has a positive spin to it.

And it’s not just new words popping up, but reference books are updating meanings of words based on their usage as well.

I remember purists’ bafflement at the contradictory definition of “literally”, noted by Merriam-Webster last year. The acceptable misuse of the adverb, which now also means “in effect, virtually” – denoting emphasis – was a hot topic of debate for a while. I’m no traditionalist, but am guilty of cringing when I hear sentences such as this one: “I will literally kill him if he does not turn up for dinner on time”, and responding with a “let’s see you do that, literally!”

Some auto-antonyms are hard to follow. I’m still thrown by people saying things such as “My colleague is sick,” where sick is slang for “awesome”.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to accept most of the lingo out there, or risk missing out on a lot of easy points when playing a game of Scrabble with my friends. I’m thinking of words such as chillax, frenemy and selfie, which were all added to the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary this month, along with about 5,000 others.

aahmed@thenational.ae

Published: August 16, 2014 04:00 AM

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