Learn Something New Every Day!

Initialisms

I have not thought about the O.E.D. (Oxford English Dictionary) in years. Back in 1978, I was thrilled to join a book club because the introductory offer allowed me to buy my very own personal condensed edition of the O.E.D. The package deal included a magnifying glass to help read the small, small print of the two-volume set. Later, in the classroom, I would bring in the O.E.D. to help introduce students to the wonder of words and all the specialized dictionaries available. I still have the two-volume tome, but I do not heft it open much anymore. After all, nowadays for only $295 a year I can have full access to the online O.E.D. (www.oed.com).

When I visited the O.E.D. website earlier this evening, I saw the quote of the month was by Jonathon Swift from January 1720: “Proper words in proper places, make the true definition of a style.” I wonder if Swift would label the new initialisms that have recently been added to the O.E.D. as proper words at all. I know I am skeptical. Initialisms? Yeah, that’s a word! An acronym is a specialized initialism where the abbreviation is pronounced as a word. For example, NASA stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration. A different type of initialism is a comparable abbreviation of a phrase but pronounced letter by letter.

I was alerted that this year’s new additions to the O.E.D. include initialisms by reading a blog entry by Tim: “FYI: English language continues to evolve—OMG!” His blog is titled Slouching Toward Thatcam. The title of his entry contains two initialisms: For Your Information (FYI) and Oh My God (OMG). Others include Laughing Out Loud (LOL) and Too Much Information (TMI). When I consider these new words objectively, I concede that they are indeed used daily throughout the world—and people understand what they mean. I even use them periodically myself. Tim is right when he offers this explanation: “This rash of new initialisms is of course a reflection of the new world of informal digital communication.”

Even though I can understand why this “rash of new initialisms” has been added to the O.E.D., I still am bothered by the action. It just somehow feels wrong. Seems to undermine the very power of language to clarify and expand, to add layers and complexity. I bet Swift would not deem LOL or OMG as “proper words.” But then I wonder if the legitimization of these letters as words is really what has saddened me.

On second thought, I think it is more my general reaction to change, especially change that makes me feel old. You see, I still like handwritten notes. I use and appreciate e-mails, but I know that today’s teens feel that communication medium is too slow and opt instead for tweets. I do not tweet. It just seems silly to announce to the world my immediate actions and random thoughts. Heck, I don’t even text and have not turned on the instant messaging option available through my e-mail account, so why would I tweet? Already aware that I was not keeping up with the communication changes evident today, I have recently taken action to feel more current and up to date. For example, I created a Facebook page and—look!—I am even writing my very own blog. I must admit, however, that I am still not real sure what to do with either of my new creations.

Somehow, O.E.D. officially adding LOL and OMG into the lexicon of the English language forced me realize that I am further behind than I thought. It is that realization—not the acknowledgement of some new words in the language—that has me a bit distraught. Maybe I will feel better in a few years. I’ll probably even be tweeting by then. Of course, by then, tweets will be old too (if they aren’t already) and replaced by something even newer. OMG! I better LOL now and find a way to turn TMI into FYI before I am set aside to RIP.

Comments on: "Initialisms" (5)

  1. I am quite fond of my 20 lb. OED with magnifying glass. So much more substantial than anything on-screen!

    • I agree! There is something about holding an actual book in your hands. I marvel at the technology of the Kindle and the convenience, but somehow I still would miss literally turning the pages, checking the index, explicating the margins. I cannot envision a world without books!

  2. The same Jonathan Swift described the tendency of poets to remove a syllable from past tense -ed words as a “barbarous custom”…

  3. OMG! Like I totally understand your dilemma!
    Your thoughts resonate with this also writer. Facebook—I’m getting there (after a couple of embarrassing entries). Twitter—140 characters seems little more than wishing a passer-by a good morning. I’m so happy to have found your blog. I will return.

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