UK academics and lexicographers, who no doubt sip snifters of brandy in the evening and cheat at Scrabble, just released a list of the 2012 Oxford Dictionary’s words of the year. “Omnishambles” topped the list, which is a phrase coined by a British political satirist; the variation, “Romneyshambles,” being the only time I’ve heard this mouthful of marbles uttered in the U.S. GIF (Graphics Interchange Format), pronounced “jif,” was crowned the victor in America’s linguistic Run for the Roses. Other words that made it into the top ten of both lists include Eurogeddon, Superstorm, Super PAC, and YOLO, which is a social media acronym that stands for You Only Live Once. In fact, this catchy little number probably would’ve been the word of the year if it hadn’t jumped the shark the first time a national news broadcaster tried it out (no doubt thinking, oh well, YOLO), forever killing the phrase for every phone-twiddler and tech-tween under 18.
All of this brings me to the idea of grammar. In 2009, Twitter streaked into the lexicon like a frat boy at Spring Break, and in a few short years its abbreviations and hybrid-hieroglyphics have done what most words have been waiting eons do to: break into the Oxford Dictionary’s shortlist of Words of the Year. The impact that texting and social media is having on grammar is yet to be determined, but there’s some dark prophecies being spun out there. Talk to a modern educator and you’d think students have regressed to scribbling on cave walls.
I don’t want this post to sound like some kind of Ted Kaczynski (a.k.a. Unabomber) rant against the perils and pitfalls of modern technology, but tech-oriented words have a monopoly on language these days. Whatever happened to Nabokovian gems like leporine and horrent?
If you take the popularity of social media and combine it with the fact that little grammar is being taught in school, then you end up with a recipe for a LOL disaster. So where in this cat’s cradle of language does the content writer fit in? To borrow the 2011 Word of the Year, perhaps he’s “squeezed middle.”
“Squeezed middle: the section of society regarded as particularly affected by inflation, wage freezes, and cuts in public spending during a time of economic difficulty, consisting principally of those people on low or middle incomes.”
In the writer’s case, he’s affected by the spikes, trends and rapid changes in language. In one hand he’s clutching the A.P Handbook, while the other is keyboarding slang, twitter-jargon and poetry in search of a writing style reflective of the modern world. He is, in a sense, squeezed between the formal rules and traditions of language and grammar and the desire to break free from those rules. This is as true for the content writer as it is for the novelist.
What does this mean for the future of language? Maybe the 2013 Word of the Year will explain it to us.
Damon H is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.