Idiomatic Phrases Have Been the essay

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In this rgard, Atchinson and Lewis (2003) report that, "Electronic forms of news dissemination include multimedia 'webcasts', e-zines, news alert services, news tickers, e-journals and (we)blogs, newsgroups, personalized news trackers and email. Stylistic conventions are emerging for these various forms, but common trends can be discerned." "Compression is carried even further online, driven by the tiny window on the vast information landscape. Paragraphs often consist of a single idea in a single sentence. Salient ideas may be expressed by bulleted lists of noun phrases rather than in clauses. Tables, charts and graphs are common."

Nevertheless, some observers suggest that in spite of the dynamic nature of the online environment today, some formal rules should still be followed to ensure that everyone agrees on the shared meaning of words and idiomatic phrases. In this regard, Stockwell and Minkova (2001) report that, "American phoneticians and lexicographers in general use a slightly different set of symbols from those used by European phoneticians. The important thing to understand is that phonetic symbols are arbitrary, codified, representations of language sounds. Any well-defined system is, in principle, as good as any other."

Alas, the well-defined system that has shaped up over the centuries for "officially" adding words to the working vernacular by their inclusion in a recognized dictionary is not up to the task today. According to Stockwell and Minkova, "The language is constantly changing, constantly in flux, and dictionaries must stay current - i.e., not more than ten to fifteen years out of date. The turnover rate is fairly shocking." These authors cite as a primary example of the rapidity with which the English language is changing today the 1977 edition of the Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary which issued a supplement to its 1972 edition that included the following new additions to the vernacular: catch 22, database, day care, digital clock, floating currency, gang-bang, greenhouse effect, hype, liquid crystal display, modem, Ms., pixel, safari park, sitcom, skateboard, skinflick, tunnel vision, up-market, voice-over, yucky, zap, zero in on, zilch, zip code, zonked.

It is conceivable that an entire conversation could be formulated using all of these "new" words today, but such a verbal feat would not have been possible just a few decades ago because these words did not even exist. As Stockwell and Minkova emphasize, "These words are so much part of British as well as American vocabulary today that it is difficult to imagine that the parents of the current college student generation would not have been familiar with them. Yet they became dictionary-worthy in the UK only between 1972 and 1977!" These authors suggest that the increasingly rapid pace of new word development will mean that dictionaries may follow newspapers down the "print is dead" path as more and more people resort to online sources for their dictionary definitions.

According to Stockwell and Minkova, despite attempts by various dictionary publishers to update their compilations more frequently, the task has become akin to drinking from a fire hose. As a result, some dictionary publishers are turning to digital and CD/DVD-based updates to keep their collection current. As these authors conclude, "It now appears likely anyway that the updating of the future will be done on computer disks and/or CD-ROMs. This is relatively easy and relatively cheap. As we all move into cyberspace, the conventional printed dictionary may become one of the casualties, and we'll simply check in at a Web site (or, unfortunately, more likely a dozen Web sites) for the latest lexicographical information."

Taken together, these trends suggest that lexicographers will no longer represent the final arbiters of what is and what is not an "acceptable" word for inclusion in the working vocabulary of a society, but rather the preponderance of what meaning collective communities of like-minded users assign to a given word or idiomatic phrase in online environments rather than the traditional face-to-face exchanges that have been the source of new words in the past. This observation is congruent with Aitchinson and Lewis who note that, "Internet communication promotes the development of multiple ties: links that arise between people on the basis of their work, their interests or their specialisms, and result in peer-group communities. This type of link calls for neither public nor private discourse styles, but for a range of styles to bridge the published/unpublished divide."

Summary and Conclusion

The research showed that humans have been searching for mutually agreeable definitions for words and idiomatic phrases since time immemorial, and the first words used by humankind have been lost in the mists of time. The research also showed that the first dictionary was published in the 17th century, but only contained about 3,000 entries. By sharp contrast, the Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1989) contained full entries for more than 400,000 words, including definitions (some of which run to a full page or more) for hundreds of thousands of words in current use, as well as almost 50,000 additional entries for words regarded as obsolete; beyond these entries, there are also almost 10,000 derivative words included as subentries.

Just a half century ago or so, etymologists and lexicographers collaborated with each other primarily, but also the general public as well by soliciting their input on what new words they felt should be included in new dictionary editions. Nevertheless, these scholars represents the final say of what new words would qualify for inclusion into the working vernacular by virtue of being added to their "official" compilation of what was regarded as an acceptable word. Today, though, these stodgy gatherings of academicians are being replaced by collaborative online communities that are not only redefining how words become words, they are providing the definitions for these new words as well. Whether an "official" or otherwise formal process for codifying new words into the working vernacular is a desirable thing likely depends on who is being asked, and who is doing the asking. While it is apparent that there is an inherent value in maintaining current dictionary definitions in a rapidly changing and increasingly multicultural society, dictionary publishers no longer enjoy the luxury of being able to debate the fine points over whether a word should be included in a new edition or not because by the time they reach a decision in the traditional fashion, the word may already be obsolete or replaced or modified by countless other new words and idiomatic phrases. In the future, words and idioms will be "hooked up" with the world by like-minded communities of people from all over the world who come together in online environments and will be compelled to develop mutually acceptable terms for use in ways that mirror the face-to-face processes of old, but in much more accelerated ways.


Aitchison, Jean and Diana M. Lewis, New Media Language (London: Routledge, 2003).

Babowice, J. Hope, "What 'Fly' Means to You May Not Be Mom's Definition" (Arlington Heights, IL: Daily Herald, 2007, October 31), 1

How many words are there in the English language?" (2008). [Online]. Available:

Katamba, Francis. English Words (London: Routledge, 1994).

Lighter, J.E.,"Word Improvisation." The Atlantic Monthly (October, 2000) 286(4), 140.

Mcarthur, Tom, Living Words: Language, Lexicography, and the Knowledge Revolution (Exeter, England: University of Exeter Press, 1998).

Stockwell, Robert and Donka Minkova. English Words: History and Structure (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

Vernon, Mark. "The Art of the Aphorism: When Are the Empty Words of Political Spin Profound," New Statesman (2008, March 17) 137(4888): 50.

Katamba, Francis. English Words (London: Routledge, 1994) 10.

Katamba 10.

Vernon, Mark, "The Art of the Aphorism: When Are the Empty Words of Political Spin Profound," New Statesman (2008, March 17) 137(4888), 50.

Lighter, J.E., "Word Improvisation." The Atlantic Monthly (October, 2000) 286(4), 140.

Babowice, J. Hope, "What 'Fly' Means to You May Not Be Mom's Definition" (Arlington Heights, IL: Daily Herald, 2007, October 31), 1.

Mcarthur, Tom, Living Words: Language, Lexicography, and the Knowledge Revolution (Exeter, England: University of Exeter Press, 1998), 134.

Stockwell, Robert and Donka Minkova. English Words: History and Structure (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 80.

Aitchison, Jean and Diana M. Lewis, New Media Language (London:…[continue]

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