Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Why 'Wurfing' is not a word (yet)

How many words, I wonder, have entered our everyday language over the past few years thanks to the influence of computing and the Internet?

Here are a few that spring to mind:

Blog (short for ‘web log’)
Podcast (like a broadcast that can be downloaded onto an iPod)
To Google (to search for information often, though not necessarily, using the Google search engine)
To Surf (to browse the Internet - in which case wearing brightly coloured swimming trunks and standing on a board is entirely optional)

Then there are those technical words which, a decade ago, would have seemed like impenetrable jargon to many people, but which are now almost universally understood. I’m thinking of words such as upload, download, email, attachment, virus and (of course!) Monty Python’s greatest contribution to the English language: Spam!

In addition, there are acronyms and abbreviations: lol, rofl, imho, roflmao and so on....

I wonder why some terms caught on whereas others were consigned to the recycle-folder of history? ‘Audio-blogging’ was around long before the iPod, but that term now has been pretty much erased by the word ‘podcast’. Before Google, there were lots of search engines. Why did none of these generate a verb? ‘To Hotbot’ perhaps, or ‘to Altavista’?

I chanced upon two stories about ‘new words’ recently. One, from the BBC, called ‘How the internet is changing language’, muses on such oddities are ’rickrolling’ and WTF. The other, ‘When is a word not a word? When it doesn't make it into the dictionary’, comes from The Daily Telegraph. It considers the problems with which the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary have to grapple when deciding which new words are sufficiently established to merit an entry and which are purely transient and may therefore be ignored.

The Telegraph article says...
‘A researcher at Kingston University, London recently described his fascination at discovering a vault full of millions of “non words” that had failed to made the grade. They included “wurfing”, the act of surfing the internet at work; “polkadodge”, the awkward dance performed by pedestrians trying to pass each other on the street; and “nonversation”, a pointless chat.’

I rather like ‘wurfing’. Maybe if we start a campaign to get people using it we might manage to sneak it into the next edition of the OED. Come on, people, get wurfing!

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