The Word: How not to become a derp

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It must be nice to work at the Oxford Dictionaries Online, where every three months its lucky brainy employees sit around a table and pick 65 new words to add to its database, issue a news release about it and watch the Internet go wild (NBCNews.com: " 'Twerk thrusts its way into Oxford English Dictionary").

The news aggregators post stories, the experts get interviewed on "Today," young people roll their eyes and their parents wring their hands, asking themselves if they should know what the word "twerk" means.

Oh, don't be a twerk.

According to Oxford, twerk doesn't mean jerk -- rather, it's a more salacious version of the popular dance of the 1960s, i.e.: "to dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance. See: things you do at da club; Miley Cyrus' recent performance at the MTV Video Music Awards."

FYI: The fleet-footed, watchful, hyperactive Oxford Dictionary Online (ODO) is not to be confused with its slower, more serious cousin, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which, it must be said, is a priceless source of $10 words when a $2 one will do.

There are other dictionaries that can be accessed online: Merriam-Webster, Cambridge, the "Free" dictionary, all respectable and compendious. There are livelier, hipper online dictionaries, too -- the Urban Dictionary ("the dictionary you write") was parsing not one word but two on Wednesday: "Tootsie weekend: in which a man assumes a female identity to determine whether or not he would enjoy being a woman."

But some of the "new" words in this latest addition to ODO's database beg the question: Do you really need to know what "jort" (denim shorts?) means? There is something so synthetic about the word jort, although you could impress people at parties by noting that jort is actually a "portmanteau" (Merriam-Webster: "a word or morpheme whose form and meaning are derived from a blending of two or more distinct forms (as smog from smoke and fog)").

Also, the list is full of Briticisms (Oxford definition: "An idiom used in Britain but not in other English-speaking countries") that may never reach these shores: "Omnishambles," named Word of the Year in 2012 by the Oxford Dictionaries, is defined as "a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations: Anyone with five minutes to spare, a Maths GCSE, and a calculator could have averted the entire omnishambles by checking the civil servants' sums."

There are more American words on the list, including the loathsome "selfie," which this writer was only dimly aware of until recently, realizing, in fact, that as a parent of two daughters, of course she knew exactly what it means: "A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website."

A few other "new" words feel dated: "Space tourism," "chandelier earrings," "me time" -- can you say 1980s? "Badassery," a noun, is defined as "behavior, characteristics, or actions regarded as intimidatingly tough or impressive. See: Seal Team 6; people saving other people from sharks; most things done by Samuel L. Jackson."

Ditto with "buzzworthy," a favorite of PR flacks: an adjective "likely to arouse the interest and attention of the public."

It is amazing how language constantly reinvents itself, shifting from noun to adjective (after five series of "Breaking Bad," the exhortation "let's cook" has taken on a completely different meaning), shrinking into initialisms, acronyms or an "abbrev" -- the hugely depressing "tl:dr," as in "too long; didn't read."

Instead of despairing, however, over the addition of words that, on first blush, seem repugnant: "emojii" (those annoying digital smiley faces) or "phablet" (a cross between a tablet and a smartphone), take heart in knowing that, thanks to ODO, you are now completely a creature of the 21st century, culturally literate and someone who will not embarrass your children.

Srsly.

For ODO's new words, go to: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2013/08/new-words-august-2013.

lifestyle

Mackenzie Carpenter: mcarpenter@post-gazette.com; 412-263-1949; on Twitter @MackenziePG.


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