Tuesday, December 11, 2007

unencumbered numbered words

Merriam-Webster, today, announced the "word of the year." I was barely paying attention to the local, Maine news as it breezed over the world news, as it was a mere reading of the Google News top headlines for today. But my ears perked up when I heard what the word was. Are you ready? Previous years have featured integrity (2005) quagmire (2004) and who can forget last year's truthiness?

This year's word of the year: w00t

w00t (interjection)
expressing joy (it could be after a triumph, or for no reason at all); similar in use to the word "yay"

For those not familiar, this is a term which was borne of video games, specifically the online role-playing ones which take in teens and college students and keep them there for ages. This isn't a word, either, its an abbreviation or shorthand for an exclamation of joy. My gaming roomate says that it originiated in the day of "Quake" and stood for "we owned other team." What makes this one special? People say it randomly, everywhere on the internet. The two 'o's in w00t are actually zeros, a hitchiker from a digital conversation.

Does that it is about technology make it a word that is worth a dictionary like Merriam-Webster honoring it? It could be argued that many other technological words have come into our culture in the past few years that are worth recognizing, and to prevent "new" words from coming into our language is counter productive. I agree that terms like google and blog have now become part of our vocabulary, whether we chose them to be there or not. But their purposes, origins and meaning far outweigh this immature online slang. Even the newscaster who was describing it used it incorrectly about three times, before awkwardly shrugging.

Words that act as a critical lens like quagmire or democracy, or reflect on our lives like truthiness, blog, google or tsunami are welcome to be picked as representatives of the current year. But I fear that letting w00t win this year just opens a Pandora's box. It is a symptom of a culture whose next generation is in danger of being permanently attached to television screens.

I think that by letting this type of slang and abbreviated gaming talk enter our daily discourse, we're somehow losing other pieces of our language, detracting from meaning and eliminating the very purpose and use of our beautiful words which already exist.

"The most important aim of newspeak was to provide a means of speaking that required no thought what-so-ever. It uses abbreviations or clipped conjunctions in order to mask or alter a word's true meaning. For example, words such as Miniluv and joycamp, allow the speaker to speak without actually being forced to think about what they were talking about.. or at least, not as much as if they were required to use complete phrases such as "Ministry of Love" or "Forced Labor Camp". These words just roll right off the lips before the speaker can even contemplate what he is really saying." -George Orwell, 1984

I believe it is the purpose of my life to touch at least as many kids as I can, to prevent them from ending up this way. Wish me luck.

More on this later... for now, sleep!

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