I recently read in a Chicago Tribune article that the word “Unfriend” has been voted New Oxford American Dictionary’s 2009 Word of the Year. For the few of you that might be unaware of its definition, the term is used in social networking sites, such as Facebook, for the act of removing someone as a friend. Words such as this have become such a mainstream part of the English language that many have been added to renowned dictionaries across the globe. But is this sort of language abbreviation really a good thing?
The trend, I believe, does not just exist with MySpace and Facebook. Other sites, such as Twitter, also promote a sort of language abbreviation. Don’t get me wrong, I support Twitter and its use in our society. But think about it: one only has a 140 character limit in each post. We’re currently living in a society where abbreviated messages and to-the-point news is valued because of the speed of technology.
It is correct to view a dictionary as a tool for understanding active language. Many forms of slang have evolved from the Internet and social networking systems that have introduced a vast array of new vocabulary used in everyday life. The Oxford Dictionary, as well as many others, make it a point of adding new words to their lists all the time in order to keep the dictionary in sync with current language usage. In fact, Oxford contained as many as 301,100 entries in 2005. Many argue, shouldn’t the dictionary include made-up words? If one is unaware of the meaning of commonly used slang, shouldn’t he/she be able to look it up?
Yes. I do agree that the dictionary needs to act as a sort of accurate account of language use within today’s society. But voting a made-up word as Word of the Year? I feel that “unfriend”, along with many others, has become the slang form of what could be said in better English, and without much more effort. And for Oxford to honor this makes me question what the distinction will someday be between formal writing and casual speech. Do we really need to continue the trend of language abbreviation? I’m sure if one flipped open a dictionary, there exists an entire page of words that he/she didn’t even know existed, that simply haven’t been used because they’re “too long” or “too much effort”. But why should we use all the same words as everyone else and let these cool, less-known words die out?
It’s good that some parts of language are adjusting to the fast-paced world of online news and communication. As a journalist, I embrace this. And admittedly, dictionaries need to be up to date. However, I still think some old vocabulary words have their place and should be appreciated. And Oxford honoring “unfriend” seems a bit over the top.
The runner-up for Word of the Year was “sexting”. Classy, Oxford.