Friday, December 14, 2007

Words on the street

I am fascinated by language. My dad spoke six of them. While I didn’t inherit his ability to learn language, as is evidenced by my sad attempts at French, I did inherit a love of hearing different languages and dialects. I particularly enjoy studying how a language truly shapes a culture and national behavior patterns. And the dynamism of language allows it to reflect societal trends.

It’s no wonder that my recent discovery of Urban Dictionary, , brought a smile to my face. The more tech-saavy readers of this blog will think that I just now have emerged from the dark ages. I fear that this is proof that my long, slow slide from hip, urban chick to crusty old broad may have finally begun. Nevertheless, I think this may also be a new find for some of you, or a refresher of knowledge gained long ago, so it is worthwhile to post the link.

Those out of the know may be asking, “So what is this urban dictionary all about?” It is a slang dictionary that is based on user-generated definitions. Literally, it is helping to define this quickly evolving world around us. And then there is a feature that allows the community members to vote on the definitions added. For example, "wOOt" is top of mind on Urban Dictionary today. It means “an expression of joy”. 3106 people give this definition a thumbs up. 565 shot it down.

The other cool feature that I love is that community members are recording the history of these words. From many definitions, we can learn where words come from, their original use, and how they’ve been adapted to become more main stream. So not only is this a dictionary, it is an anthropological history book. I’m so excited about this, it’s hard for me to sit still!

"WOOt" was recently voted word of the year for 2007 by the dictionary gurus at Merriam-Webster. Facebook was the runner up. In years past words like “google” and “blog” have received the top word honor – not a bad track record as these words are now commonplace in daily conversations. Is "wOOt" destined for this type of fame and recognition? Unclear. But it’s found its place in the American lexicon and I’m all for anything, or any word for that matter, that spreads joy.

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