Words just don’t mean what they used to

Published 12:31 pm Wednesday, July 9, 2008

In this age of laptops and Webinars, communication has never been more convenient. ESPN reports what baseball players have said via text message, and federal prosecutors routinely search suspects’ e-mail accounts for incriminating evidence.

With all this information flying around, it’s easy to lose sight of what communication is all about: words and their meanings. One might think grammar would have been a logical choice for the preceding sentence, but, if you’ve ever received a text message that features what should be five sentences without any sort of punctuation (or correctly spelled words), then you know the whole concept of grammar is eroding.

All the parentheses, colons and apostrophes, by the way, are saved for sideways smiley faces. I imagine what people must think when my reply is a message with seamless capitalization, syntax and (gasp!) periods.

As someone who appreciates words, I was intrigued to learn that the lexicographers at Merriam-Webster added more than 100 new words to their collegiate dictionary. Some of the highlights:

air quotes: gesture made by raising and flexing the index and middle fingers of both hands, used to call attention to a spoken word or expression.

infinity pool: outdoor swimming pool with an edge over which water flows into a trough but seems to flow into the horizon.

mental health day: day that an employee takes off from work to relieve stress or renew vitality.

mondegreen: word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung. From the mishearing in a Scottish ballad of “laid him on the green” as “Lady Mondegreen.”

pescatarian: vegetarian whose diet includes fish

racino: racetrack at which slot machines are available for gamblers

Webinar: live, online educational presentation during which participating viewers can submit questions and comments.

After considering these new dictionary entries, are you as disappointed as I was? I’ve never heard of a “racino.” I don’t understand how you can be vegetarian AND eat fish.

I think these new additions are unnecessary and will cause a general dilution of people’s appreciation of the word in general. The cocky upstart “air quotes,” for example, will now grace the pages of the dictionary right before the noble “air rage” (you guessed it, the airplane version of road rage).

On second thought, maybe we went too far a long time ago.