A few months ago, the Oxford English Dictionary, “the definitive record of the English language,” admitted the “initialisms,” LOL, OMG, BFF, among others, into its hallowed lexical database.
The move bestowed upon them legitimacy, an official status, a substance. Other neologisms such as “sexting,” “retweet,” and “mankini,” were entered as well.
Not long after that, the same über-lexicographers eliminated the term “cassette tape,” without a thought. It was reported in a few media outlets, but was glossed over by most readers, as nothing more than meaningless trivia. The decision, however, was certainly not a trivial one.
When the jolt of incredulity subsided, nostalgia, and hurt took its place. Technologies become obsolete. Formats become defunct. Devices become outdated. Tools may rust and break. But surely, we can’t delete them from the written records of our language. And if we do, we purge them from history altogether, as if they’d never existed.
The Millennials, who, for instance, may not have seen a transistor radio, could always read about it, see photos of it—on Google, of course. Be as that may, in my opinion, till the time a word lands a place in an authoritative compendium, it lacks materiality, a gravity, a dignity.
Out of idle curiosity, I checked to see if “cassette tape,” has been reinstated. It had. Woot. The fine folks at the OED had stinted on sketching out its meaning, though. At this writing, it was defined as “a cassette of audiotape or videotape.” Skimpy, wouldn’t you say? In a perplexing contrast, it defines “LOL” far more expansively, beginning with information on the family of speech it belongs to.
It labels it as an “exclamation,” chiefly applied in “electronic communication, to draw attention to a joke or an amusing statement, or to express amusement.” Though I couldn’t explain why “LOL” should deserve more space than “cassette tape,” what mollifies me is that among the three online dictionaries I refer to—Cambridge, Merriam-Webster, and O.E.D.—it’s the O.E.D. that’s truly up-to-date, constantly revised, brimming with the latest coinages.
In a recent, quarterly update, it’d inserted, among 1,200 new words, “bibimbap.” Had it not been for the O.E.D., I’d never have known the meanings of “slacktivism,” “slurb,” “brain candy,” and many more.
Is the O.E.D. partial to the post-Internet era vocabulary? It appears that some of these words pre-date the Internet. Only, in the 1960s, LOL was used as an abbreviation for “Little Old Lady.”