WTF, OED?

The other day, I came across this positively depressing bit of news about the upcoming edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.  This dictionary, long the bastion of tweedy old-wordery, has announced that it will henceforth be including a series of internet acronyms in its pages — including OMG, LOL, ATWWNMTOYDYI1, and, even worse, the heart symbol.

That’s right, this guy: ♥

The inclusion of these words depresses me for three main reasons:  First, these additions make me feel like a 20-something curmudgeon.  Second, many of these phrases are things I don’t understand. Third and most important), these new “words” are incredibly lame … In thousands of years when some alien culture digs up a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, they will learn how stupid we were and laugh at us.

Perhaps I’m a bit sensitive about this.  You see, I have a deep and abiding love for the OED.  This is not just some dictionary; it’s the most ambitious literary project of, well, all time.  The OED consists of 20 volumes containing 600,000 words.  And it’s not just definitions — it also chronicles the shifting usage of these words, as well as listing significant published appearances.2  When I was courting Mary, I bought her a copy of this dictionary.

The OED isn’t the only culprit.  A few years ago, Scrabble updated their dictionary to include “qi” “xi” and “za” … not only are some of these words idiotic (I’m looking at you, “za”), but they also throw off the mechanics of the game. On the other hand (OTOH), at least the topic lets me post this picture of a Scrabble-tile keyboard …

UPDATE – this morning the New Yorker published a piece that defends the changes to the OED.  It’s worth a read.


  1. Which of course translates to “Adding these words will not make teenagers open your dictionary, you idiots.”
  2. For those interested, author Simon Winchester has written a fantastic book about the 75-year creation of the first OED called The Professor and the Madman, which details one of the dictionary’s key contributors, an insane murderer who worked remotely from his prison cell!

4 Comments Leave a Comment

  • NotNessie says:

    On the positive side, at least now you’ll be able to go somewhere you feel comfortable to look up the meaning of those ridiculous acronyms. I doubt OED is trying to grab the teens, but curmudgeons of all ages have cause to be grateful.

  • kbryna says:

    i HATE abbreviations. HATE THEM. I don’t even use them on addresses anymore – it’s street, not st.; avenue, not ave.; and so on. And the cheapness of these text-laziness-induced “words” – ugh. appalling.
    I knew a boy in college whose family had to refugee from – croatia? Serbia? somewhere in eastern europe. He taught himself English using a discarded OED. He had a staggering vocabulary (and was brilliant in any language); he was not someone to play Scrabble against.

    I cannot believe that “OMG” and “LOL” are now in that glorious OED, alongside sibilance, prolixity, penultimate, tintinnabulation, petrichor, defenestration, atramentous and plash. This is WRONG.

    (and to paraphrase a list-serv post from Julius Lester, I have been waiting my whole life to be old enough to be an official curmudgeon. you cannot start too young with curmudgeonliness).

  • I was so disappointed, too – what is the world coming to? (no, don’t answer.)

  • Roboseyo says:

    abbreviation are cute but they deserve a place in “urbandictionary.com” not the Oxford English Dictionary. If LOL gets in, what about ROFLCOPTER? I mean, where does it end?

    On the issue of abbreviations and emoticons, my favorite is one that’s used in Korea, but not (as far as I know) elsewhere:

    OTL

    it’s used when someone’s overwhelmed or feels put-upon. If you look at it and squint, you can see a person crawling on their hands and knees.

    And (my own invention) when Princess Leia feels put-upon, you can do that, too:

    @TL





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