Merriam-Webster just added 640 new words to its dictionary. Contemporary words like “go-cup” and “vulture capitalism.”
The problem is, we all know how to spell those words and what they mean. After all, we invented them. Who needs a dictionary to look up the words we already know? And sometimes you have to wonder, is there any possible way to explain a word using words? “Twerk”? If the definition doesn’t include a video, there’s no way to explain it.
Of course, there are always words that are long, hard to spell and used infrequently. But you don’t need to look those up in a dictionary, because your doctor will be happy to tell you what they mean. There are always new scientific terms: A “qubit” sounds like something Noah used while building the ark, but this qubit relates to particle physics. They’ve also added new definitions to words that are already in the dictionary. “Headwinds” and “tailwinds” are not just the concern of pilots anymore, but describe business conditions. A “snowflake” is now also a derogatory term used to call someone fragile or overly sensitive.
Dictionary companies are adding these words so that in 50 or 100 years, people reading our old Facebook and Twitter posts can look up all these words and figure out what we were talking about. And for that, I pity the people in the future. No one reads my Facebook posts now. Imagine how boring it would be for somebody, who just drank her own recycled sweat from her spacesuit on Mars, to have to read about what color I painted the living room. And she won’t much care about my selfie in front of Kim Kardashian’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, either. Because she’d have to look up the definition of the word “selfie.”
No, she has better things to do. Like wonder why her Amazon delivery took over an hour to get to Base Station 4033.
We’ll always be making new words to fit the life we live. The future will be so different that it’s hard to imagine. Why would anyone 50 years from now care about today’s slang, any more than we care about slang from the ’60s? Do you think today’s kids are going to waste their time looking up the definition of “groovy” or “festival seating”? If you are a college freshman today, you may never have heard of a fax machine or a Betamax. And you won’t care, because you’re too busy playing “Fortnite.” I don’t know what “Fortnite” is, but I’ll look it up as soon as Merriam-Webster thinks it should be in the dictionary.
Maybe a hundred years from now, we’ll all be using Canadian slang because it’s so hot in the Lower 48 that everyone’s moved north. The Canadian snowbirds won’t be able to visit Florida anymore because it will be an atoll. Vermont will be the new Florida. We’ll have to invent a word like “coolbirds” for people who chase livable weather around the globe.
Facebook and Google will be long gone. Laptops and cellphones, too. If you think cellphones and Facebook are bad now, just wait until they become computer chips implanted in your brain at birth. If you think that’s far-fetched, remember that it was only 30 years ago that you had to dial up your AOL connection to get on the internet.
Will we still be texting 30 years from now? Not likely. Will we still be Googling? Who knows. But will we still be adding words to the dictionary? You bet. Except one day, maybe soon, they will have to add the word “dictionary” to the dictionary. Otherwise, how will young people know what it was?
Contact Jim Mullen at [email protected].