Oxford Dictionaries added yet another slew of popular slang words and acronyms to its vocabulary in August. Adorbs, neckbeard, amazeballs and YOLO are just a few examples of what now grace the webpages of the online dictionary, neatly defined and used in sentences for further clarification.
Could the recognition and celebration of these words point to a cultural decline brought about by the millennial generation?
Laura Penny, professor of early modern studies and contemporary studies at King’s, embraces these updates to the popular dictionary with glee.
“I think people always want to appeal to a golden age when everyone spoke properly, but ain’t no such thing,” Penny says with a laugh, pointing her finger with enthusiasm. “From what point would we be charting this decline?”
She professes she’s pro-slang, but rejects an insistence on linguistic purity, as she says it’s misplaced and hostile to the way that we actually use language.
Penny thinks English is a wonderful language precisely because it can accommodate so many new words.
“The ultimate test for whether a word is a word is whether people use it and understand it. I would argue that lots of people use and understand FML or YOLO,” she says.
However, Penny does recognize there are times a slang word isn’t appropriate as she encourages her students to write essays in formal academic English.
“I do want my students to know proper grammar so that they can culturally distinguish themselves to, well, snobby people,” she says. “I don’t approve of this type of snobbery, I think it’s inimical to learning anything, but there are snobs in the world and occasionally you have to ask snobs for a job.”
Penny thinks people should be able to alter their language depending on their audience.
In fact, she thinks code switching is a skill that a person should get out of a liberal arts degree.
Penny embraces new language with open arms. Neckbeard, she says, is a good insult, and binge-watch is a concept we need a word for.
“Saying that there should never be any new words, or that new words are the sign of a cultural decline is like saying there shouldn’t be any new restaurants or new houses or new streets… cities change and language changes,” she says.