Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Word of the Year

Merriam-Webster recently announced the winner of 2007's "Word of the Year" award, which was determined via the always reliable internet vote.

This year's winner was "w00t".

The article mentions that "w00t" is not currently listed in a regular Merriam-Webster dictionary but this award "might just improve its chances." If you ask me, that is awesome.

I get into a lot of debates with people about language, particularly at work. A lot of people are driven crazy by the newest slang or even differences in regional dialect, but I think it's cool, or possibly even "pimp" (the kids are still saying that right? Somebody help me out here).

I've always just thought that the entire point of language is the free flow of ideas. You're expressing yourself and trying to convey your thoughts. As long as you are able to do that and the person you are talking to can basically get what you're trying to convey, then language is fulfilling its primary purpose. How you pronounce the word "water" makes no difference whatsoever to me as long as I recognize the word.

However, not everybody agrees with me on that. There are plenty of people out there who think that putting a word like "w00t" into the dictionary just serves to further "dumb down America". I disagree with this for a number of reasons.

First of all, words go in the dictionary. "w00t" is a word. If you don't think it is then look up the definition of "word" in the same dictionary you are ostensibly trying to "protect" from "dumbing down".

word (noun)
1 - something that is said
2a - a speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolizes and communicates a meaning usually without being divisible into smaller units capable of independent use
2b - a written or printed character or combination of characters representing a spoken word

I think that "w00t" qualifies based on any of those definitions.

Second, a dictionary is not some static text in a vault. It is supposed to be a reference, and as such needs to be updated to keep pace with that which it references. Disagree? The dictionary itself doesn't.

dictionary (noun)
1 - a reference source in print or electronic form containing words usually alphabetically arranged along with information about their forms, pronunciations, functions, etymologies, meanings, and syntactical and idiomatic uses

See that? It's a document containing words and a bunch of crap about words including where they came from and how they are actually used.

The dictionary is a reflection of language, not the other way around.

Third, new words get into the dictionary all the time without people making a stink. It's only weird looking words that the kids say while listening to their "rock music" and playing their "video games" that get people upset. For example, the word "nanoscience" isn't in the Merriam-Webster dictionary yet either, and yet universities are teaching classes on it and the National Science Foundation has a whole section of their website devoted to it. I don't hear anybody making a stink that they shouldn't be using that word because it isn't in Merriam-Webster, and if they do put it in next year I'm sure nobody will then either. But "w00t", a word I'd wager is being used a lot more often than "nanoscience"? English professors everywhere start weeping.

To me, the bottom line is communication. That's the point of language. If people are inventing new words and new slang, that means that there are new ideas and new ways to express those ideas out there. I'm not saying "w00t" is representative of some new age of enlightenment, but people are using the word a lot and therefore it should probably go in the dictionary.

How much sense does it actually make to only use a dictionary when reading an old book that uses words you've never heard or seen before? Doesn't it make just as much, if not way more sense, to be able to use a dictionary to look up words people are actually using regularly?

Anyway, even if you don't like it, "w00t" will probably be in the dictionary in a year or two. And there's one very obvious thing to say about that: w00t!


Andy said...

0 n0 h4xx0rz teh d1ksh14r33!!! Plzkthx!!!

360 bread thank...

Anonymous said...

Define woot. What does it mean? If the purpose of a word is to communicate, then woot fails.

If we follow your logic, that a group of letter forms a word if anyone says so, then I wish to create the word djerkababalash. This word shall forever be known as a noun to identify the stuff in your belly button. Please memorize it and use it in casual conversations.

According to your logic, the point of a word is to communicate. Is that the essential definition of a word: A group of letters that conveys or communicates something? If so, then how many people need to know djerkababalash in order for it to be considered a word. Can djerkababalash be a word to some but a noise to others if those others have never heard that word and would not know what it means.

There are probably a lot of words that are referenced in the dictionary that I have never even heard of. I typically lose my Scrabble challenges. In that case, can they even be considered words since I have no idea what they mean and they communicate nothing to me other than the fact that I may have a more limited vocabulary than I originally suspected.

Along those lines, is a sneeze a word? People sneeze differently. Some give a loud explosion ("HACHEW") and others sound like they come from a kitten ("chew"). Either way, a sneeze is a noise that communicates a great deal universally. For example, it communicates "I am sick" or "I have allergies" or "where is my darn purell".

Thank you,

Sarah B.

Yeager said...

Excellent questions, Sarah B.

First of all, "w00t" is essentially the equivalent of "yay", stemming from an abbreviation for "we own the other team". You can follow the link in the post to Merriam-Webster for their definition.

And yes, if "djerkababalash" started to become used by enough people to refer to the stuff in your belly button, then I would absolutely endorse its inclusion in the dictionary. In fact I will do my best to ensure this happens by starting to use the word myself whenever I need to refer to the stuff in my belly button.

As for the question of how many people would need to use the word for it to be considered a word, that's an excellent question. I would however argue that "djerkababalash" is at least a word to the two of us if we started to use it regularly. If it became popular on the internet as a result of this comment (unlikely) it may warrant enough to get it in the dictionary so that when people heard the word they could look it up.

Those words you are using to spell out your sneeze (like "Achoo") are onomatopoeia and are considered words. You will even find achoo in the dictionary due to its wide usage.

LastBestAngryMan said...

Well thought out post.

As for the comment; Why does woot fail? Because it doesn't communicate meaning to you in particular?

Then any word in any language you don't understand isn't a word.

Of course woot is a word. Anything that comes to be used by enough speakers of any particular language...including, if it gets popularized, a word. How do you think language develops and grows?

By modifying words, adopting loan words from other languages (English does this particularly well, and often...borrowing from French is why we eat 'beef' and not 'cow', for example) and yes, by making up entirely new words to refer to new concepts.

Any point at which a language stops adopting or creating new words it stagnates and dies. English is really in no danger of that, thankfully.

Yeager said...

Just a quick question before I start using "djerkababalash"... is the "d" at the beginning silent?

LastBestAngryMan said...

I believe in the original Gothic the "d" in djerkababalash would be pronounced as a sort of soft "th" sound, but as time has modified it into present-day English it has no doubt grown silent.

See, once you have some advanced degrees you can just make crap up. Academia is grand.

Anonymous said...

Here is the phontetic pronunciation:


Anonymous said...

I do not believe that "woot" is a word. If fails definition 2(a)of the word word. Woot, in and of itself, does not communicate a meaning.

Perhaps if you couple woot with a pumping fist, a football game in the background and a shrill voice, you could convey a meaning. At that point, however, woot is no different than any other noise that could typically accompany this type of behavior.

I do not believe woot is common enough to be used in a sentence. When one verbalizes a woot it is usually not in a sentence. Try to use woot in a sentence. My team is woot. What?

Woot, should it be uttered, stands alone as a noise or cheer rather than a word.

Anonymous said...

Oh, that last anonomous was me, Sarah B.

LastBestAngryMan said...

On the most basic level, absolutely no word communicates meaning in and of itself.

Words and sounds have NO intrinsic meaning; they have a referent. A word is a symbol, containing a sign (the pronounced sound or arranged pattern of letters on a printed page) and a signified (the actual 'thing' or concept or idea the word refers to).

No word ever communicates meaning in and of itself, but only in relation to other words, other symbols, other signs and their signifieds.

So if we're going to use that as a yardstick for whether "woot" is actually a word, then it is absolutely going to fail. So is every other word. We cannot use that as any kind of measure.

You've fallen for one of the classic blunders...never get involved in a discussion about semiotics with a poet!

Andy said...

You mean kind of like the word "hooray," which is listed in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary?

Both "hooray" and "woot" are interjections.

Other popular interjections include "ouch," "alas," "hey," and the frequently used "yo."

All are words in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

For reference:

I also know about 10,000,000 people who use "woot" daily...

Alas, I love this because it proves the English Language is not dead. Hooray!!! I love debate!!! Woot!!!

Anonymous said...

"bling" made it to the dictionary. Woe be to you and me as humanity finds itself crawling among the ashes of a once-great civilization, breathing in its fetid dust, choking on yesteryear's dignity.

Bah! Bah, I say. Bah!

DM Osbon said...

I have a little game at work with the gut I work on shift with. We try to find a new word each day that we then add into our conversation with others in the work place or we just make up odd statements with that 'discovered' word in.

These words have meaning that take other words to explain...don't think 'woot' will be making our list somehow...hehe...

DM Osbon said...

please replace 'gut' with 'guy' when reading above comment...sorta works with 'gut' to...hmmm