Oct. 16, Dictionary Day: Do we still need them?

dictionaryWritten by Claire Wagner, university news and communications

If something is bad or wicked, is it inferior or despicable? Or is it good or cool?

How does a dictionary keep up with alternative meanings?

“Language changes from the bottom up,” said cris cheek, professor of English at Miami University. “People do what they need to do to communicate effectively.” 

New meanings are applied to words; words come in and out of fashion and there are words that have trouble surviving. Also, observes cheek, “Niche communities' jargons become part of everyone's vocabulary.”

Hence, the annual additions to official dictionaries.

“The English language is like a sponge,” says cheek, who is also a poet and interdisciplinary performance writer whose works have been commissioned and shown internationally. “Language is always changing all the time. All languages.”

There are thousands of new words brought into usage in various languages every year. “The really big swell of that is around technology and through global English. Since the vast majority of us are online, certainly since Web 2.0, starting about 2004, English — if it wasn't before — is one of the global handfuls of languages. So many tech companies, like Google and Amazon, are operating around the world through the English language.”

dict-dayWe learn words from so many sources, making English “such a messy language.” With abbreviations, acronyms and variant spellings of words penetrating daily discourse, it is inevitable that standards remain flexible and contestable, cheek believes.

And so, yes, he says we still need dictionaries, even if we use them on our smart phones.