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Steelhammer: A lesson in modern vocabulary

What's the latest word in vocabulary?

Actually, there are quite a few of them, according to Oxford Dictionaries Online, which announced last week that it was adding more than 40 new words to its compendium of commonly used English language words.

Many of the new additions trace their roots -- shallow though they may be -- to smartphone users and the slang, acronyms and abbreviations used in texting.

Alphabetically, the list of newly sanctioned words starts with "apols," an abbreviation for apologies, as in "apols to all who don't consider this a real word." It ends with "unlike," which in this context means to withdraw one's approval of a person, place or thing posted on a social media website.

Next to last on Oxford's list of new words is "twerk." If anyone didn't know the meaning of the word last month, they probably got acquainted with it last week, after Miley Cyrus twerked her way into international infamy at the VMA Awards show.

It was the definition of a "buzzworthy" event, "buzzworthy" being another word that made the cut for the online dictionary update.

While "buzzworthy" could have a place in the language of beekeepers or marijuana growers, Oxford decided that it means "likely to arouse the interest and attention of the public, either by media coverage or word of mouth."

Acronym-based words making the new list include FOMO, which has nothing to do with a sexual orientation slur and everything to do with the Fear of Missing Out; LDR, which is not a type of World War II landing craft but a Long Distance Relationship, and BYOD, which stands for Bring Your Own (electronic) Device.

Texting shortcuts that are now words, according to Oxford, include "srsly," a shorthand version of  "seriously," and "squee," an abbreviation derived from "squeal with delight."

Even more alarming than having squee and srsly being considered real words were recent decisions by the editors of dictionaries produced by Google, Cambridge, Webster and MacMillan to make the word "literally" also mean "figuratively." For decades, language purists have cringed on the occasions when uninformed writers used "literally" to mean anything other than "exactly," or "in a literal manner."

In other words, if reading an article in which someone using the adverb incorrectly "literally" made your head explode, then there should be gray matter and skull fragments dripping from the pages of your newspaper, magazine or electronic device.

But the inclusion of a second definition authorizes the use of "literally" to provide "emphasis or to express strong feeling" while acknowledging "something that is not literally true."

So, with "literally" now meaning two basically opposite things, some English experts are recommending avoiding the word entirely.

Twerks for me.


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