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Twitter’s “Tweet” Enters The Dictionary

Submitted by on June 19, 2013 – 11:11 amNo Comment

A volume dedicated to over 800,000 words and phrases is now giving its stamp of approval to a social network dedicated to 140 characters or less. Last week, the Oxford English Dictionary, the definitive cataloger of the English language, announced it would add to the definition of “tweet” to include its Twitter-related meanings.

John Simpson, chief editor of the dictionary, admitted that the inclusion does break at least one general rule: that the word have existed for at least ten years. The OED traced the first use of tweet (in this sense) to 2007. (Twitter’s service went public in July 2006.) But, Simpson said, the word “seems to be catching on.” An OED blog post notes that tweet’s usage has increased 50 times since 2006.

Oddly, the word “retweet,” meaning to repost the tweet of another, was added to the dictionary in 2011.

Other technology-related words and phrases entering the dictionary this year include big data, crowdsourcing, e-reader, mouseover, and stream (as a verb).

It’s great that the dictionary is trying to stay current, but is it diluting itself and the English language? Technological terms change quickly, and there’s no process for removing words from the OED. As a former editor told the Guardian, obsolete words get a dagger printed next to them, but never get removed.

I hope they have a lot of daggers ready. Did the OED ever include “MySpace friend?”

Ewan Spence at Forbes points out that the Concise Oxford English Dictionary is a better example of his problem, since editors must remove a word before adding another. Recent cuts include “cassette player,” “S-VHS,” and “millennium bug.”

Maybe tweet, like “to Google,” will take on a meaning beyond its own site. But even then, the act itself may become obsolete in only a few years- “to Xerox” is in the dictionary, though the upcoming paperless generations may never hear it uttered.

But perhaps the more important question is: will tweeters approve of the OED’s version of the English language? If so, Gr8. If not, :-( .

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