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".
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.
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!