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Sexting, F-Bombs and Gastropubs: Merriam-Webster Gets (Too) Hip

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"Lexicographer: a writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge, that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words." --Samuel Johnson

The new Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary is out this week, and they have added a few words that make me doubt the seriousness of these lexicographers. These drudges may not be harmless.

A new definition has been attached to the term "underwater," to describe, "the heartbreaking realisation that you owe more on your mortgage than your property is worth." This new definition adds nothing to our language, contributing only to its detriment. "Underwater" is symbolic language. The value of an image depends on its...imagery. The feeling of drowning, being under the water, is sufficiently horrifying to communicate dire economic woe and much more. Granted, it is a very stale metaphor, but figurative language loses whatever value it has the more its boundaries are made concrete. In my opinion, "underwater" ought to be wholly avoided. They've done the opposite.

A far worse abomination is the propping up of the wretched cliché, "game changer." I hate this term because it's perhaps the most recurring journalistic cliché there is, and I think (and I'm hardly alone in this) that real communication, the writer's purpose, forbids this general stuff altogether. In this week's Maclean's, Paul Wells' article covering Quebec's election campaign cites the usage of the term "game changer" in no less than five major newspapers in response to the same thing. Wells has a laugh at their expense, and I laugh with him (amused contempt), but this new dictionary embeds the inexact language even deeper. While someone might suggest defining a cliché renders it no longer vague, I say it just makes the awful thing more acceptable. Clichés are to be buried without a tombstone. Lexicographers: reverse course.

And now, sexting! Actually, I don't mind its inclusion in the dictionary, even if I hate the word itself. The word has entered the common vocabulary, even if, regrettably perhaps, it's not something I've had cause to use myself. But this is an example of a word that exists only because sex and texting have a first syllable that happen to sound alike. Not all portmanteaus are good. Lewis Carroll invented the word "snarky" by borrowing from snake and shark. That's a good one, but sexting sounds like someone said "a sex text," then combined the two into one word because it was practically begging for it.

I humbly recommend for official entry into our language, "Manscaping: the act of a male trimming his body hair out of aesthetic consideration, or, in certain extreme circumstances, out of a sense of decency." While I disapprove of the word sexting, the dictionary includes other words I don't approve of, and fair enough.

Now, "F-bomb." I think it's prude and very patronizing of magazines or newspaper to write "f_ck" when fuck is probably the most popular word in our language, used in countless contexts. Besides, when we see "f_ck," we all know what they're really saying. Why forbid the "u"? It's just an innocent little vowel caught in the crossfire, and it can't possibly be the difference between what's refined and unacceptably vulgar. What children say on the playground freely shouldn't be out of bounds for adults. "F-bomb" is to speech what "f_ck" is to print, so it's another case where what needs to be included in the dictionary I find disagreeable. It's much better than sexting, though.

While I admit that sexting and F-bomb have a place in the dictionary, I can't help but feel like these lexicographers are pandering. I know that not all new entries are "fun" like these two, but I also suspect that there's a mandatory minimum of words like these to be included every year in order to generate Internet chatter that vindicates the masses' patois. "See, I'm no moron. Sexting is a real word now."

Before I forget, I cannot let the guardians of words off the hook for including in their little book "gastropub: a pub, bar, or tavern that offers meals of high quality." The great lexicographer Samuel Johnson borrowed books from his friends and returned them marked up so badly they were impossible to read. That's why they called him doctor! Yet nowhere in his expansive search across the world of literature did he come across the term "gastropub," simply because the word itself is a recent marketing scam concocted out of thin air so as to legitimize the practice of charging too much for food and beer. When I come across this word on new glossy signs above the doors of pubs, bars, and taverns, I shiver. As a lover of beer, meals of high quality, and retaining my money wherever possible, I attack this word with all my heart.