The dramatic leap in the use of social networks this year has extended to the language that surrounds them.
Just a few weeks after the New Oxford American Dictionary announced that "unfriend" is its 2009 Word of the Year, the Global Language Monitor announced that "Twitter" is the top word of 2009 based on its annual global survey of English words and phrases that appear in the media and online.
Rounding out the Monitor's top five words are, in order, "Obama," "H1N1," "Stimulus" and "Vampire."
Read more. My personal choice was 'gluteoplasty'. Full disclosure: I do not have a Twitter account. Nor have I ever had a gluteoplasty.
So now I'm ruminating on the nature of language: we add words, add new meanings to words all the time; I recently read that English has passed the one-million word mark. The Korean language is similarly pliable, though not nearly so large. We call imported words adapted to Korean pronunciation "Konglish", a word which itself is a recently-formed portmanteau of "Korean-English".
Why just today, I listened as a student explained the meaning of his proverb, Don't put all your eggs in one basket. "Do not invese all your money in only one stock," he said. The other student looked at him, brow furrowed.
"Inves-uh," he reiterated. "I-n-v-e-s-e." As if the other kid was a dolt for not knowing this fine word. Well, I sorted it out, checking that I had not made a typo on the original (I hadn't); the student had copied down his proverb and meaning (in violation of the rules I laid down) with his sloppy handwriting converting a t to an e. Still, some small fraction of Koreans now believe that "invese" is something you might do with your money.
And that is where new words come from.