Friday - - Mind Games -

Here’s a se­quence of ap­pre­cia­tive words, all taken from a stan­dard dic­tio­nary, and in ris­ing or­der of en­thu­si­asm: nice; good; great; amaz­ing; fan­tas­tic – you get the drift. But it doesn’t mir­ror what the younger set is us­ing in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions in speech and writ­ing (or rather, what passes for writ­ing such as tweets, SMS and such). For them it’s more of cool; fab; awe­some – in no par­tic­u­lar as­cend­ing or­der. Oh, and it isn’t be­cause the first list wasn’t good enough, it’s just that those words are al­ready taken.

For in­stance, nice could just be a con­ver­sa­tion filler, and not nec­es­sar­ily a com­pli­men­tary one: “I bought a BMW yes­ter­day.” “Nice.” Good means ‘OK as I am’: “Care for some cof­fee?” “No thanks, I’m good.” Great has been sub­verted to mean its op­po­site, in sar­casm: “Well, that was just flip­pin’ great!” Ques­tion: to what source does one turn to, to learn this new jar­gon?

An­swer: the vo­lu­mi­nous, allem­brac­ing, and pro­lific web­site ur­ban­dic­tionary.com. It was started by techie Aaron Peck­ham while still a fresh­man at a Cal­i­for­nia uni­ver­sity, not only be­cause he needed to cre­ate a web­site but be­cause he was dis­sat­is­fied with the con­ven­tional English-lan­guage dic­tio­nary, as it “was telling us how English [should be] spo­ken, in­stead of re­flect­ing how English was ac­tu­ally spo­ken”. In other words, au­gust tomes like the Ox­ford English Dic­tio­nary, or even the on­line dic­tio­nary.com, loftily pre­scribed what makes for an au­then­tic word, and made grudg­ing con­ces­sions if they had to al­low slang words to creep in.

Peck­ham’s site, on the other hand, would be­come the mother of all de­scrip­tive dic­tio­nar­ies. It has over seven mil­lion def­i­ni­tions, with 2,000 new daily en­tries be­ing added. The ‘Advertise’ page of the web­site states that, on a monthly ba­sis, Ur­ban Dic­tio­nary av­er­ages 72 mil­lion im­pres­sions and 18 mil­lion unique read­ers, and fea­tures words from over 30 lan­guages. All en­tries are re­viewed and rated by vol­un­teer ed­i­tors. As T he New York Times said “the site ex­ists so peo­ple can ‘crys­tal­lize and cri­tique en­tire ex­pe­ri­ences or so­cial sub­sys­tems’”; the Ad­ver­tis­ing Age pro­posed a “new rule” for nam­ing brand ex­ten­sions: Check Ur­ban Dic­tio­nary First.

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