back to article It's official: 'tweet' an English word – not just in the avian sense

Proving either – or both – that the English language is a living organism in constant flux and evolution, or that the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary is cheapening itself with a premature bow to cultural pressure, the word "tweet" in its social-media sense has been added to that sacred paragon of lexicography. This …

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When the Chief Editor acknowledges that they are breaking their own high standards you know it's all gone to shit. It sets a terrible precedent. I thought the OED would be a little classier than trying to catch some low class, reality TV style attention. We might as well just start using Urban Dictionary as the source for words. I think I'll go add an entry over there now.

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Coat

Re: Status

I don't know why; it's a perfectly cromulent word.

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Re: Status

they are breaking their own high standards ... sets a terrible precedent. I thought the OED would be a little classier

What a load of prescriptivist rubbish (as, indeed, is much of the article) - and a completely incorrect characterization of the OED, the purpose of which has always been to catalog as many English words as possible.

The OED's standards are not "high". They are, in fact, deliberately set rather low. The 10-year rule is meant to avoid documenting the most transient slang and nonce-words, essentially to serve as a heuristic to avoid words that don't "catch on" or are used exclusively (or primarily) by a single writer.

The precedent was set long ago. For at least five years they've been adding words even if they have no print citations. "Google", as a verb, was added in 2007. In 2003 they added "nucular" as a synonym for "nuclear" - and "blog", for that matter, which they date to 1999. (Note, please, that fewer than 10 years separate 1999 and 2003.)

As for "classier": while the first edition of the OED did start with English literature as its source, that was because the corpus of Great Books was a very manageable object for investigation. It was easy to partition in various ways (period, author, genre, etc) for multiple readers; it was easy to cite and confirm. And the words in those books were durable, because educated English speakers were largely familiar with them. But Murray, the first editor, famously described English as having "a well-defined centre but no discernible circumference"; and later editors have acknowledged that the center is not well-defined either.

Some other dictionaries aim to prescribe (and proscribe). The OED does not.

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Boffin

A dictionary doesn't define language, it reflects common usage.

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Happy

It does both actually. An excellent example is the word 'moot'. Most people will get the 1st meaning incorrect but its common usage has a completely different meaning. Is the second meaning incorrect? Well, that depends on which dictionary you are referencing.

The OED is generally considered to be the alpha and omega of non industry specific English language use. That's why it is a big deal when they add words. Their decision to include this meaning of 'tweet' is highly questionable because it is so new and is representative of a popular fad that may not have been around long enough to become vernacular if it wasn't for the meddling of the OED editorial staff. Now the English language is basically stuck with it.

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Purpose

A dictionary doesn't define language, it reflects common usage.

Common usage by which group, when? I can sprout quite a few "common" words which are not going to be in the OED any time soon. Different dictionaries for different diction.

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@Don Jefe - Moot?

Moot means subject to debate or unclear/unknown etc/

The problem with that work that people unable to pronounce diphthongs (USA for example) have mixed it up with the word mute and redefined it as "irrelevant" or pointless.

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Happy

Re: @Don Jefe - Moot?

Yep. I agreed that the mute confusion idea was the most likely cause. It's really interesting how that happens.

In 300 years some grad student researching Internet forum archives will write a paper about how 'although the people's of the 21st century had access to enormous bodies of language reference materials they seem to have been affected by societal pressures that made widespread use of these resources unfeasible. We hypothesize that clan chieftains or local warlords, sometimes known as 'bankers' or 'lawyers', and shamans, known as 'priests' or 'preachers', may have adopted different reference works in an attempt to cause confusion and disorder among the populace'.

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"A dictionary doesn't define language, it reflects common usage."

I c wot u men. Booyakasha. Respec.

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You can tell we're on a tech site. Too many people here seem view natural language as they would a programming language; that the rulebook, as set forth by the standards agency, needs to be precisely adhered to.

The dictionary is a generalized guide to the common usage of words in our language. Pointing out that different regions (which have their own dictionaries by the way,) use the English language in a manner other than as described in our dictionary doesn't undermine that fact. Nor does pointing out that a minority of people use text-speak. That's equivalent to saying all the spellings in the OED are wrong because short-hand exists.

That said, I've no idea why the OED seems to be abandoning their 10 year rule. Now they're going to have to consider every faddish piece of slang which, whilst popular, may only be around for 6 months.

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The OED is generally considered to be the alpha and omega of non industry specific English language use. That's why it is a big deal when they add words.

What a load of crap. The OED attempts to document the English lexis, present and historical. Only ignorant prescriptivists think it's "the alpha and omega" of anything, or that additions are cause for celebration or alarm. The OED is a tremendously valuable resource, but it does not, and has never been intended to, serve as a guide for proper or preferred usage.

Now the English language is basically stuck with it.

Yes, just as we'll never see the end of Mencken's "booboisie", added to the OED some decades back. Why, hardly a day goes by that I don't hear someone using that one.

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Happy

Re: A dictionary doesn't define language, it reflects common usage.

I was, of course, quoting an OED editor from several years back, since this brouhaha comes up EVERY time a 'modern' word is added to the OED.

Some people here should consider moving across the Channel - they would likely be happier under that language regime! :-P

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It's official!!!!

What's 'official'?

Who actually bases their decisions on using words on whether the OED has decided to include them?

The OED openly acknowledges existing usage after the event, and what they decide seems to be of limited interest to people other than journalists trying to find something that isn't actually news to fill an otherwise slow day.

But then I guess, 'It's official!... is essentially shorthand for "you almost certainly don't need to be told this, but I'm going to tell you anyway".

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Happy

Re: It's official!!!!

Official publications use the OED for reference.

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Alert

Re: It's official!!!!

Neat! I found a bug in the El Reg icon system. I can post as anonymous coward but still choose my icon!

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Black Helicopters

Re: It's official!!!!

Do I get an award?

I really miss my El Reg 'Black Helicopters' tee shirt. Lost in Belize when my luggage was stolen.

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Pint

Re: It's official!!!!

Suckers.

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Pint

Re: It's official!!!!

Whatever. Icons are for AOLers. "Beer" being the rare exception ;-)

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Re: It's official!!!!

>>"Official publications use the OED for reference."

And what effect does that have?

How differently would they treat relatively novel or niche words depending on their inclusion or exclusion?

Whether thinking of the population in general or some particular subset or the population, some words/usages-of-words which are in the OED will be comprehensible to far fewer people than some which are not in it.

If a writer was unsure whether their target audience would understand a word, looking in the OED seems unlikely to be of much value, except maybe as a buck-passing activity.

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Happy

Re: It's official!!!!

This is going to sound like I'm being a smartass, but I'm not. If a reader doesn't understand a word, he can use a dictionary and look it up. For non industry specific words the OED is generally the standard reference so the reader can be confident if he looks up a word in the OED he will be getting the correct definition.

For novel words the OED standard used to be at least 10 years of documented use in the language in the applicable context. Niche words will appear, but generally only as they apply to vernacular (everyday or common) use, not the definition that a subgroup has chosen or had applied to it. Without a standard of reference all of language (an arguably society) falls apart so the OED acts as that standard. Appearing in the OED makes it 'real': There's a lot of philosophy behind dictionaries...

Does that help?

For fun, dictionaries also make it possible to construct wholly absurd, but absolutely correct sentences like 'Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo'. They are also extremely useful if you enjoy the game Scrabble.

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Unhappy

Re: It's official!!!!

I wish the OED WAS the "industry" standards. It is MY standard, but it's not the industry standard, certainly not where I work, where dumbed down* American english is used.

*no latin, that is, "i.e"

*no big word where small ones will do instead

*no common abbreviations (except where we make up brand new ones)

*random capitalisation of Important Words

And worst of all, sentences that start with a logical argument but then automobile pileup into a train-crash.

I am disappointed that the OED is breaking it's own rules.

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Re: It's official!!!!

Internal organization or editorial rules certainly do add complexity to the language and serve to confuse lots of people. A good example is the word 'argument' which should mean a discussion or debate, but has come to have negative connotations to the reader. Forensics is another good example.

I understand writing to your target audience but it can go too far both ways. It can serve to dumb down a conversation and remove basically all meaning from it. It can also be so incredibly over the top it is nigh on unreadable and incredibly boring. That's why the editor is so very important, he sets the standards, hopefully somewhere between a comic strip and a treatise on operator techniques for electron microscopy. El Reg, for example, has a good editorial staff that someone throughout the spectrum of IT knowledge can understand.

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FAIL

Re: It's official!!!!

I hope you're (not your) being ironic - "OED is breaking it's own rules"?

Or "OED braking itz own rulez"?

Troll much?

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Re: It's official!!!!

As we're reminiscing,I saw Sarah Bee in the letters page of Private Eye this week. Happy days...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's official!!!!

Who actually bases their decisions on using words on whether the OED has decided to include them?

Countdown on C4.

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Headmaster

Re: It's official!!!!

AC: Countdown uses the "Oxford Dictionary of English", not the OED. The ODE reflects popular usage, and "tweet" in the social media sense made it in some time ago.

(Nowt to do with Oxford Press, but I do love Countdown.)

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FAIL

Re: It's official!!!!

"Official publications use the OED for reference."

And just WHO (or is it WHOM?) decides what publications are "official" any way? Hmmm?

Is there an "Official Publications Official"...or "Official Publications Standards Board"?

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Re: It's official!!!!

Official publications use the OED for reference.

Oh really? Name one.

I hope they don't use it to, say, check the spelling of "mackerel"; the OED lists thirty-some variants.

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Re: It's official!!!!

For non industry specific words the OED is generally the standard reference so the reader can be confident if he looks up a word in the OED he will be getting the correct definition.

Where do you get this stuff?

The OED does not supply a "correct" definition for any word. They supply definitions for all the senses of a word that they can document, aside from those that seem marginal (only appearing in one instance, for example, or apparent errors, and so forth).

You really have the most astounding misapprehension of the OED's purpose, process, and contents. It's remarkable.

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Thing is, OED ...

You "twit" using "twitter", according to common English usage. Eg, I am twitting now!".

If "tweeter" existed, you'd "tweet". Eg, "I am tweeting now".

What a bunch of twits ...

Disgusted in Tunbridge Wells.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Thing is, OED ... @jake

"You "twit" using "twitter", according to common English usage."

Nope, "twitter" is a verb. People have always used twitter/twittered in everyday speech where I come from. Dunno what common English usage you're talking about.

"If "tweeter" existed, you'd "tweet". Eg, "I am tweeting now"."

Tweet is just a term used when talking about Twitter. Your argument's a bit pointless, really.

Must try harder ...

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Re: Thing is, OED ...

"Twit" is the adjective used to describe the sort of people who "tweet" using twitter.

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Thumb Up

Re: Thing is, OED ...

If "tweeter" existed, you'd "tweet". Eg, "I am tweeting now".

Nah. Birds twitter and tweet.

I'm currently building a similar system to Twiiter. Not sure yet whether to go with iBarker (Woofs &/or Growls) or Me-Ow (Hisses &/or Purrs). Either way, I'll be paying the OED to get my new terms into it before the IPO.

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Re: Thing is, OED ...

'"Twit" is the adjective used to describe the sort of people who "tweet" using twitter.'

And don't forget the past tense: you twat?

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Re: Thing is, OED ...

While we're at it, let's add tweetards and tweethats shall we?

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The OED is a useful tool,

not a standard reference. For example it still gives db as the only abbreviation for decibel (presumably based on the original 1929 quotation), although in scientific use only dB has been correct for at least 40 years.

When the OED chooses to add an entry or meaning, it shows that a group of experienced people think the word or meaning is going to be around for a while. Some people might think that's interesting, others couldn't care less. But if the OED is going to continue, it has to make these judgements, and if they can get a bit of publicity out of it, good luck to them. I'm very glad the OED continues to exist and for me having it at my fingertips is a major benefit of having a smartphone. I don't complain that it's not definitive, because I know that would be impossible.

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Happy

Re: The OED is a useful tool,

The OED does not deal in industry specific definitions. For example, different branches of science (say acoustics) will have their own dictionaries that the group (industry) has agreed to use amongst themselves.

"When the OED chooses to add an entry or meaning, it shows that a group of experienced people think the word or meaning is going to be around for a while" - you've got it backwards.

When the OED adds a word or definition it means it has been around a while in that use; at least a decade of documented use. At least it was that way until the twit who added tweet before that decade had elapsed.

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Cool

They want to be like everybody else, they want to be cool, they want people to see them as cool, they want to hang out in the mall, they want to be in, they want to join the club, get with the vibe. You know what I mean? They wanna be Da Oxford Dicksh, blood.

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Cool

Or "Da Oxy Dicksh, Bitch!"

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Just waiting

... for the launch of next 'social' network, Crppr, and the Newspeak it engenders.

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Past tense.

I just twat?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Past tense.

I got so twatted I went for some beer

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I applaud the decision. In 10 years or so -when twitter is no longer around- people will wonder what the fuck their parents were talking about. It's good to have a reference -or at least a starting point- when it comes to searching historical terms. Due to the internet; language is moving faster...dictionaries have to step up the pace or die and give in to the Urban Dictionary.

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Anonymous Coward

Did I miss it?

Didn't see the explanation that states when a new word qualifies for addition to the OED. I believe it requires 'x' number of uses in daily press and some other criteria that needs to be met, upon which, OED adds it to its book due to it now being a common use word.

So nothing cheap about it, Tweet has met the defined requirements to be considered a word in the English language.

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Re: Did I miss it?

Right in the article the OED Chief Editor says that, among other criteria, a word has to be in use for at least 10 years before inclusion, but they are breaking this standard so that he has something interesting to tweet.

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Re: Did I miss it?

There aren't any "rules". Yes, I read Simpson's announcement too - it was a casual note and clearly poorly worded, since any number of people who clearly know very little about the OED have taken it as some sort of gospel. The editors consider various words for inclusion. They make their decisions based on any number of factors. There is no magic checklist of n citations or m years in print. "Tweet" is not the first word to be included with a first-use citation that's less than 10 years old.

And while we're at it: there is no such thing as an "official" English word;1 and if there were, the OED would not be the vehicle for endorsing such.

The sky is not falling, Chickens Little.

1Except, in a different sense, "official".

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Re: Did I miss it?

The OED is the definitive record of the English language. While there are no 'checklists', there are time honored editorial traditions they follow. To break with those traditions is to call into question the validity of the work as an historical reference: Which they themselves state is the purpose of the work.

http://public.oed.com/the-oed-today/rewriting-the-oed/

http://public.oed.com/the-oed-today/rewriting-the-oed/collecting-the-evidence/

So dosbixsuckit glamelfarg.

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Windows

Campaign time!!!

Can we introduce the words.

Anaspeptic, frasmotic, compunctuous pericombobulation and interfrastically.

Or, all start speaking ye olde English, or better, nadsat...

I was enraged when the verb "texted" seemed to appear, this "tweet" really makes my shit itch....

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Re: Campaign time!!!

I'm going to campaign for chucklefuck, douchenozzle, lactibate (wank with breast milk) and of course turlingdrome.

I wonder what they're charging for inclusion?

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Big OED oversight.

Silly OED.. someone should let them know they have entirely forgotten it's culinary usage - frequently encountered by any sensible twitter user in everyday patronage of the service..

As in:- "I really couldn't care less what you just had tweet."

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