Like many teachers, I often peruse newspapers and websites in search of topical items I might clip to share with my students. The Los Angeles Times recently rewarded this practice with a short article about why the Oxford English Dictionary (OED for short) had just named the word, selfie as the 2013 word of the year. Beyond offering a justification for its inclusion in what’s widely considered to be THE definitive source of words in the lexicon, the article inspired me. Jackpot! The fact that the staff of the OED even awards a newly minted word with the distinction of being the “word of the year” would make a terrific way to get the concept of what a neologism is across to my students.
One of the things I most admire about the English language is its adaptability and predilection for slurping up new words with ease. It keeps the language fresh and vibrant, probably much to the chagrin of academicians, lexicographers, and, well, (truth be told) English teachers. I mean, after all, who’d have predicted ten years ago that unfriend or inbox as verbs would be acceptable usage? (We can all thank Facebook for that.)
But then I thought, Well, if the OED staff can debate and discuss neologisms and decide among themselves to choose only one as the word of the year, who’s to say that we can’t do the same? After all, who better has a “finger on the pulse” of new words coming into the language through texting and “tech talk” than students? They practically coin new words themselves on a fairly regular basis. Why not try to keep track of neologisms such as these ourselves, and award our own “word of the year”?
So, I’m going to be putting a big piece of blank butcher paper up with the title NEOLOGISMS scrawled across the top of it in bold, black letters and inviting all of my students to participate in collecting entries for consideration. Toward the end of the year, we’ll discuss the entries we’ve collected, decide on a winner, and write a brief justification for our choice. Move over, OED, we’re on the prowl for what will arguably turn out to be next year’s best new word.