Language Matters: LOLing at the OED

Language is undoubtedly a living, evolving thing.  And this is good, because otherwise we’d be stuck with a language from the Middle Ages to describe 21st century ideas.  But sometimes language can change in unexpected and potentially undesirable ways.

‘LOL’ added to the OED (BBC, 8 April 2011)

Raise your hand if you’ve used “LOL,” either online or in real life.

Wow!  That’s a lot of you.

I expected as much.

Still, some language purists have raised eyebrows at the recent decision to include “LOL” and “OMG” in the definitive book of the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

The terms, as you might know, mean “laughing out loud” and “oh my god,” respectively.

Their ubiquity and the fact that they usually don’t need defining are what made them qualified to join the official ranks of our language.

Most people know them, many use them or have used them at some point, and even the most ardent “lol-haters” recognize their position in the language as a way of expressing amusement or a tongue-in-cheek appreciation of a joke in text or an online environment.

However, the inclusion of these terms in the official English language has led some to question whether the widespread use of such slang terms is harmful, especially for young people who are still developing their communication abilities.

Not so, say others.  In fact, it may actually be helpful.  Kids who use slang are engaging in code-switching, a linguistic task that involves using elements of two languages at the same time — something that bilingual people do.

This is not the first time that the language of the Internet has been given official sanction by the OED — the term “google” used as a verb was added in 2006.

What do you think about this issue?  Should “LOL” and “OMG” be counted as “real” words in English?  What about other Internet slang, like “BRB” or “ROFL”?  Why or why not?

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