Let us take a minute of silence to accept human devil-ution as it is today while language purists worldwide manage their collective shudder.
‘Vape’ is the Oxford Dictionary word of the year. Vape: to suck on an electronic cigarette. It can now preen itself on having an entire lexicon to go with it: someone who vapes is a vaper (chosen over ‘vapist’ for obvious reasons) while vape pen and vape shop are now official Oxford Dictionary addendums.
‘Vape’ beat its contenders ‘bae’, ‘slacktivism’ and ‘indyref’ as the novel word of the year. Yes, ‘bae’; the skin-crawling Danish onomatopoeia that means ‘feces’ that Instagram users now swear by. And if you thought that wasn’t enough for Shakespeare to be turning in his grave, the most esteemed publication of the English language managed to successfully coin the most cringe-worthy phenomenon of the digital age – ‘selfie’ – as last year’s word of the year. No. A self-photographed picture need not have a name of its own; myselfie disagrees with the word because it does seem slightly selfie-absorbed, doesn’t it? How about yourselfie?
In fact, ‘selfie’ is a mongrel word that merely started off as a misspeak by a drunken Australian man. A word that carved its niche in an era of digitally enabled narcissism, quashing Miley Cyrus’s ‘twerking’ to win the spot. (Watch it here, but swiftly; viewer discretion is advised)
Muttering incoherently, forming words with rude hand gestures all while mixing grunts and snorts are now turning from mispronunciations to genuine neologisms admitted into English dictionaries. And yes, cynics might call these mere headline-stealing stunts or deliberate choices used to stir up publicity, but in fact, any admission of a word into a dictionary marks its entrée on the road to legitimation. Sure, aesthetically speaking, some of the new Oxford English Dictionary additions are nothing less than abominations. But shouldn’t these words be revelatory of the cultural conversations we have had throughout the year?
Lexicographers and editors judge the winning word as a reflection of the “ethos, mood and preoccupations of that particular year”. Moreover, the secret of a new word’s so-called success is its longevity and the ones that haven’t made it into the big book just yet often get revisited based on their usage growth. A word then graduates from slang to real when it becomes used enough to have a place in the dictionary, making it a window into the culture that invents and uses it.
So what we’re basically saying is that vaping selfies have sat at the centre of several culturally rich conversations we have had this year? Not quite. But are we implying that ‘vape’ was embroiled in several debates concerning public health, private and community rights and our convoluted relationship with such vices? Most definitely.
If we had to take a Darwinian look at the English language, we’d begin to understand it is only but natural for such words to creep their way into our daily lexicon. Think about it: ‘literally’, the most misused word in the dictionary has now seen its definition change. “To acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis” is now the definition of ‘literally’, going from a single-purpose utterance to morphing into a paradoxical dual-purpose non-word. Basically, ‘literally’ has lost its literal sense today. Some cynics would refer to it as humans setting evolution back a few decades but in fact, if we had to look back, there is no language more pure than a dead one. Language is mutable and must either evolve in sync with its times or wither away; in that light, the inclusion of new words does not imply degeneration of a language, the same way cross-communal marriages do not threaten our DNA.
Hate them or love them, neologisms such as these are here to stay.
We propose you to send in your nominations for the words that drive you up the wall to us, the Ministry of Words to be Banished for Insult to the English Language. Please note, the first suggestion received has been ‘Kardashian’.