Tuesday, April 05, 2011

OMG!!! OED!!! LOL!!!!!

It’s wonderful to experience the ongoing corruption and evolution of the English language. Last month, OMG and LOL were inducted into the Oxford English Dictionary, along with the heart symbol — the first time a meaning enters our most exalted linguistic inventory via the T-shirt and bumper sticker.

They follow in the steps of other representatives of our electronic age. Google is there. So are dotcom and wiki. Chances are the meaning of tweet will soon spill out of its ornithological domain. The additions bring to mind the words of William Safire, The Times’s former master wordsmith, who climbed down from the conservative ramparts in the culture wars 25 years ago to accept that “words come to mean what most people think they mean, not what we say they ought to mean.”

The embrace of the parlance of the Internet by the Oxford English Dictionary, or OED, is not just affirmation of the plasticity of the English language. A century ago, Chesterton berated the belief that language was complete, with “a word for every reality in earth, or heaven, or hell.” LOL, prosaic little acronym, conjures this boundlessness.

In “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins,” the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges created a 17th-century polymath who builds a language to organize all human ideas, “where the name of each thing says all the details of its destiny, past and future.”

As the decimal system allowed people to write any number in the universe, Wilkins offered his code to produce every possible meaning. Yet Wilkins’s lexicon could never encompass the universe, which Borges suspected, in its organic, unifying sense, cannot exist. Borges’s universe didn’t have the Internet as we know it.
 He may have called it a library.