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Hello and welcome to Trend UK, your shortcut to popular culture from the British Council. In the next few minutes we’re going to be talking about new words and phrases.
New words enter the English language all the time, in fact English has always been in a state of evolution and in recent years more and more words and phrases have entered the language, partly due to the increased willingness of lexicographers to include them in the dictionaries. But where do all these new words come from? Our reporter Mark has been finding out.
If you want to know what words like screenager and splod mean, the man to ask is John Simpson, chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. John, what’s your favourite new word at the moment?
Really I don't have favourite new words, but let’s say that one of my favourite new words is screenager, which is a young person or a teenager who spends a lot of time in front of the computer.
Any other favourites, John?
Some of those rather unpleasant words like splod, somebody who is socially inept, a splody person, but as I said I don’t really have favourite words because all words as far as I’m concerned are objects of scientific study.
And where do these new words and phrases come from?
Well, words come out of the culture that they represent and they describe so if you’ve got a new development in medicine, for example bird flu, then you’ll get a new word coming out of that. If there’s a military conflict that may well bring all sorts of new words to the fore. Going back in time the First and Second World Wars were times of great creativity of language because people from different countries met each other and exchanged their words and words developed from there. So really words come from, they come from the playground, they come from politics, they come from any area of life because every area of life is changing from day to day.
How do you keep up with the huge weight of new words you must have to evaluate?
Well, it’s not just me, we’ve got something like 60 editors working on the Oxford dictionary and we also have readers and word spotters throughout the world who are sending us information in. In the old days they used to write them out on index cards when they came across some in books, but nowadays they tend to type them onto their computers and send them into the central computer here. It’s an enormous issue, but one which we just about manage to keep under control. We don’t include words just because we’ve seen one example of them we have to wait for evidence of general currency to build up in our computer files before we start putting the word in the dictionary. So a lot of the time it’s collecting data, letting it build up and then reviewing it and seeing what you’ve got and so that’s how we manage the work.
And why is it, John, that English has more words than any other language?
It certainly has more words than other European languages and probably of any other language in the world. English is put together from so many different bits. Originally it was a Germanic language and then after the Norman Conquest there was an enormous influx of French words. It comes from a country, the United Kingdom, which has been quite an expansive, trading, colonial power in the past and that’s brought all sorts of other new words into the language because words come in through contact often and so yes, it’s a very receptive language and this contrasts really with many of the other European languages who because they are smaller than English are concerned that they may well suffer what they call loss of domain, in other words, there may be areas where their language may not be used, in university teaching for example, or in business or whatever, in preference for English say and they tend to be much more concerned about maintaining and defending their language. English is really so large that it doesn’t really bother about that. It also doesn’t have a central academy that imposes a policy on the language – we don’t really have any language policies here, we really allow the language to be self-regulating.
John Simpson of the Oxford English Dictionary – thank you!
Well, we've been trawling our network of British Council teachers and examiners to get their thoughts on how English students acquire new words. Andrew Edmonds from Poland says his students pick up new words and phrases from DVDs, songs, computer games and websites, most common new ones at the moment are "like whatever" and "doh!". Anthony Sloam, also based in Poland, agrees and adds that students who are into heavy metal have been known to pick up words like 'sinful', 'veins' and 'wither'. Well, I'm off to look those up in the dictionary.
Our reporter Mark finding out about new words there.