Walk into a coffee shop on any high street today and you’re confronted by an amazing array of caffeine-connected choices: flat white, red eye and doppio to name a few. We’ve become coffee connoisseurs with our own particular preferences for skinny or full fat, dry or wet. Yet the words we use to describe our favourite latte or cappuccino are fairly recent. We’ve only started to use them in the last five years or so as we’ve embraced the coffee culture of Australia and New Zealand (flat white), New York (red eye) and Italy (doppio). New trends demand new words and these global linguistic influences have quickly percolated into our daily routines.
Like no other human activity, language holds up a mirror to our modern fascinations, insecurities and obsessions. English is forever caught in a creative frenzy of reinvention. But how does a publisher navigate this streaming torrent of language when preparing a dictionary or thesaurus? They can take the all-out approach of the online oversharer and aim to include as many words and explanations as possible (to potential groans of TMI). Alternatively they can take the lexicographical ‘high ground’ and ignore the ever-buffering trends of modern English. Personally I think a more honest and ultimately celebratory approach is called for. This is what the ‘Word Lover’s Gallimaufry’ in the fourth edition of The Chambers Thesaurus aims to achieve with its plethora of intriguing word lists.
Our language reflects who we are and how we live. The words that people use in their daily lives and are likely to continue using, are the ones that come to rest in the pages of a dictionary or thesaurus. Those which we feel are unlikely to stand the test of time (David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ being one) are left on a list of ‘words to watch’. Recent additions have captured the growth of technology and friendship and the influence of the boardroom with creativity and zest. For what greater social weapons do we have today than to defriend our enemies (or even frenemies) or to aim an exclamatory poke at those we admire across cyberspace? Where would male friendship be without the rise of the bromance? And who can imagine their workplace without the potentially cringeworthy blue-sky thinking?
Yet let’s not forget that it’s also the big events and sweeping themes of our times that affect our use of English and influence us as dictionary and thesaurus compilers. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have turned many into armchair generals venting their opinions to all who’ll listen. The economic recession has introduced bad bank and quantitative easing into our everyday vernacular. And as we become more aware of the threats to the environment so our vocabulary alters. The language of the green agenda is particularly imaginative and playful. Climate-sceptics may scoff but for many eco-bling has become the new cool and freecycling the new shopping.
These words, describing the events that shape our lives, enrich our vocabulary and add to the historical lexicon of our language. For English evolves; it always has and often in unexpected ways. Another recent example is the rise of Blinglish or Jafaican, the language of multicultural London. Imbued with its own contemporary humour and vibrancy, it swings from butters and diss to peng and safe. A mix of Caribbean patois, cockney and hip-hop influences, it’s a new way of communicating. What better example could there be of the joy and ingenuity of English’s long and varied journey? As editors we try to embrace these kinds of changes. Because ultimately as lovers of language these are developments to recognise, explore and celebrate.
It is to this theme of celebration that I return time and again when thinking about our use of English and how it should be reflected in a dictionary or thesaurus. New times herald new words. The linguistic changes we witness every day demonstrate the ingenious and creative sweep of our language. These developments are global and swirl through countries and cultures far from our own shores before making their way back home and into everyday usage. It is this pursuit of celebration that inspires us as publishers. In capturing the depth and range of English, the books we publish provide an accurate snapshot of how we communicate today. Ultimately it is a desire to capture the diversity of English in as many guises as possible that determines the words we choose to include and those we don’t. And ting.
Chambers Thesaurus 4th edition will be published on 23rd August 2012 by Hodder Consumer Learning, priced at £30.00.
Bad bank: a bank set up to administer unprofitable (toxic) assets
Blue-sky thinking: creative thought that is not constrained by traditional thinking
Bromance: a close, but not romantic or sexual, relationship between two men
Defriend: to remove someone from your circle of friends (on a social networking site)
Diss: insult, treat with disrespect
Doppio: an espresso comprising two shots
Dry: (of a cappuccino) with frothed milk but no hot milk
Eco-bling: household gadgets marketed as eco-friendly but which in reality do not save much energy
Flat white: one or two espresso shots with a layer of frothed milk
Frenemy: a enemy disguised as a friend
Oversharer: someone who shares too much personal information on social networking sites
Poke: a greeting constituting a reminder from a Facebook® user to another to update their status
Quantitative easing: increasing the amount of money in circulation in order to stimulate economic activity
Red eye: one or two shots of espresso in a regular coffee
Ting: similar to ‘thing’ and used in various situations
TMI: too much information
Wet: (of a cappuccino) with hot milk and frothed milk
Tags: Language, Social networking, Youth