Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

October 12, 2013

I put a spell check on you

(Continued)

Which brings up the question, do they ever take words out of the dictionary? Groovy. Gofer. Bummer. Fuzz. Hooch. Fab. Moll. Dawg. Phat. Schwing. Wassup. Yadda yadda yadda. Or do they stay in there forever, like that funny smell in a man cave? The answer, I found out, is no, the Oxford English Dictionary never removes words once they make it in. Which you would know if you owned one, but very few people do. The 20 volumes of the printed version cost more than $1,000 on Oxford’s website (and almost $7,000 in a deluxe, blue leather binding).

There is a cheaper, miniature edition printed in tiny text, which comes with its own handy magnifying glass. The online version costs only $300 — a year. But these new words that make the news each year are just added to the ODO, the Oxford Dictionary Online. They may one day make it into the OED version, but they haven’t yet.

But, as it turns out, I had no problem looking up any of the words used here for free with a quick search, so I’m not sure that the business model for dictionaries is here to stay. But the great thing is that an online dictionary could have a video link to “twerk” for free, or a 1,001 other things that are very hard to explain. It wasn’t so long ago that saying something was “bad” meant it was good. Did that ever go in the dictionary? Yes. Did it ever come out? No.

What about words that have slang meanings that are almost past memory? “Heater” was slang for a gun. It’s still in there, but with the note it’s “dated.” And words that used to mean one thing and can now mean another? “Guns” can mean “biceps.” A computer used to mean a person who did math problems for a living, not a sophisticated machine. Businesses would hire computers, not buy them.

And dictionaries can’t solve all word problems. A guy cut me off in traffic the other day, made an obscene gesture and yelled, “Yo mama!” at me. I looked up “your” and “mama,” but I don’t think that’s what he meant.

Contact Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.

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