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OMG! OED makes headlines with new words

The great dictionary has drawn wide attention for including common online abbreviations in its latest update, but that's only part of the story.

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Who knew that the update of a dictionary would make headlines around the world?

But as we say in the news business, it all depends on the competition on any given day. As I write, the news focus is ping-ponging between the nuclear accident in Japan and the West's latest military adventure in the Islamic world. So maybe the report that ♥, as in, "I ♥ NY," has made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, along with LOL, OMG! and other mainstays of contemporary instant discourse, qualifies as a lighthearted change-of-pace story – except for those for whom it qualifies as a sign of a different kind of meltdown.

"The end is nigh for civilization as we know it!" has been the chorus from some quarters. Nonsense, say those in the other camp: Oxford is doing what dictionaries are supposed to do – add new words to reflect what's happening in the language.

Under the "Nothing New Under the Sun" principle, it's worth noting that some of these "new" terms aren't so new after all. The indomitable Oxford editors have traced "OMG," for instance, back to 1917, when it appeared in a letter. And for those of delicate sensibilities, by the way, an Oxford editor notes that OMG! can be construed as short for "Oh, my goodness!"

Another one of the 45,436 new definitions included in the latest quarterly update of the OED online is muffin top, defined as "a roll of flesh which hangs visibly over a person's tight-fitting waistband." It's an all too apt term but it might not persist in common parlance as long as the phenomenon it describes.


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