English for idiots?

Should words like 'twerk' and 'YOLO' be added to the dictionary?

The Knowledge

Oxford Dictionary of English now accepts words such as ‘twerk’ – the provocative hip jiggle dance. But do you?

Last week, while I was queuing at Starbucks, I couldn’t help but overhear two teenagers chatting behind me.

‘It’s cray-cray that you would even subtweet him,’ said one. ‘Chillax dude, don’t be such a buzzkill. I’m just going to YOLO it,’ her friend replied.

Now, I know Abu Dhabi’s multicultural population speaks everything from Afrikaans to Zulu, but I was pretty sure the two of them were conversing in English. But what on earth were they on about?

Baffled, I Googled ‘subtweet’ and discovered this unfamiliar word was recently added to Oxford Dictionary of English; it means ‘a form of furtive mockery or criticism on Twitter’. Intrigued, I researched the rest; turns out ‘cray-cray’ stems from crazy, ‘chillax’ is a portmanteau of chilling out and relaxing and ‘buzzkill’ refers to a party-pooper, while YOLO stands for, ‘You only live once’.

Later that night, while rustling up dinner, my dad knocked on the kitchen door. Frowning and scratching his head, he looked puzzled.

‘Everything okay?’ I asked.

‘Can I have a word?’ he asked. ‘What does “amazeballs” mean?’

Ah ha! I knew that one – and hid a smile as I explained. Oxford Dictionary of English refers to amazeballs as something ‘extremely good or impressive; amazing’. I can’t deny it, but it has become a significant part of my vocabulary when I’m with friends. It’s just such a punchy word. In fact, amazeballs describes my self-cooked dinner that evening perfectly. I would cook more often if my dishes always turned out like that – although I’m usually not one to humblebrag. No idea what I’m talking about? Humblebrag has also just been added to the dictionary, and refers to an allegedly modest or self-deprecating statement with the actual purpose of drawing attention to personal success.

Shortly after dinner, Dad’s phone rang. He answered it with a cringingly bad fake Italian accent. When the call ended I SMH (shook my head). ‘Dad,’ I laughed. ‘You’re such a wackadoodle.’

Nope, wackadoodle is not a mad lyric in one of Miley Cyrus’s flamboyant tunes; it’s another word that has been added to the dictionary to mean an eccentric or fanatical person.

I’ve only just grasped the definition of a ‘selfie’ – a portrait photo taken by yourself – and a few other terms fueled by social media, and I’m not yet sure what my view is on these peculiar new words. I’m torn between thinking they’re a disgrace to the English language and believing they’re good examples of how youths influence society.

But perhaps the message to take away is that people are getting more creative with their vocabulary. Even though I don’t think some terms are worthy enough to be added, simply because they describe society’s uncultured obsessions, it’s important to recognise that many of them are being used by a substantial portion of the population – and with over 4,000 new words added to the dictionary every year, the English language will never stop evolving.

Just less than 20 years ago the expressions, junk, fab, as if and cut it out were non-existent. In 10 years time, my money is on hench, binge watch and bro hug being part of our everyday speech. How adorbs.

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