Friday, March 25, 2011

TMI? New initialisms make it into dictionary

Can a dictionary ever have Too Much Information? Has the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gone too far in adding initialisms like LOL, OMG and FYI to its latest update?

Probably not, because even though these initialisms (initial letters sounded out as their letter names) and acronyms (initial letters sounded out as a complete word) aren't really words as such, they're increasingly frequent in their use and functionally very handy.

What's also interesting about them is that they often have a longer history than we might realise:

As is often the case, OED’s research has revealed some unexpected historical  perspectives: our first quotation for OMG is from a personal letter from 1917; the letters LOL had a previous life, starting in 1960, denoting an elderly woman (or ‘little old lady’; see LOL n./1); and the entry for FYI  [FYI phr., adj., and n.], for example, shows it originated in the language of memoranda in 1941.

Elsewhere in the same OED update, the use of the verb "to heart" is commented upon. We're no doubt all familiar with T-shirts bearing the I ♥ NY/LDN/your mum logo or something similar, but the expression "to heart" is now registering as a bona fide version of "to love":

From these beginnings, heart v. has gone on to live an existence in more traditional genres of literature as a colloquial synonym for ‘to love’

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