Recently The Oxford English Dictionary (hereafter known as the OED in the interest of brevity) has added around one thousand new words to its online lexicon.
Some of the new entries include selfie (a photo taken on a smartphone of yourself that is usually uploaded to a social networking site) phablet (apparently used to describe a smartphone with a bigger screen) double denim (wearing two items of denim clothing together, jeans and denim jacket for instance) and babymoon (a holiday taken by expectant parents prior to the birth of a child or the time during which the family bond).
While the majority of us may find this mildly irritating at best, there is potential for dyslexics to find the inclusion of new words a real problem, particularly considering the tome is updated four times a year.
Take selfie for example. Surely using the words portrait photograph is sufficient. Just because the picture is taken with a different purpose in mind does not necessarily mean it needs its own word to distinguish it from a perfectly good pre-existing definition. The same goes for babymoon, what is the problem with using pre-existing words to explain what someone is doing rather than boiling it down to one for the sake of being trendy? And as for phablet, what is achieved by amalgamating two words to create an offshoot of something that is already in existence?
It is quite clear, and perfectly normal, that as the world evolves language should, and indeed does, change with it. That is not an issue. In having so many words specifically within the OED, unique problems arise due to how widely this particular dictionary is used.
While I am not bemoaning the evolution of language and accept that popular culture influences it, where will it stop? Given nobody knows when the world will cease to exist, in theory we have an infinite amount of time during which language will change and grow.
But if every single new word that is created ends up in the dictionary (OED assures us this isn’t the case despite the fact it might feel like it), are we not losing sight of a couple of things, particularly for dyslexic people?
One, the ever-increasing number of new words and definitions will exacerbate the processing difficulties that dyslexic people experience. Two, given the hardships dyslexics encounter with literacy, should responsibility not lie with the compilers of the OED to make the world of words easier to navigate by asking themselves if particular words really need to be in the dictionary? Because sometimes less is more. If you use too many words the ones that actually matter get lost, become meaningless and lose their power. And doesn’t that go against what the OED is trying to encourage given that they produce dictionaries that are ultimately used to expand our minds?
Maybe the OED needs to realise that expanding people’s minds should not involve cramming them full of unnecessary nonsense words which would only be to the detriment of the English language and those who speak it, none more so than the 10% of the UK population affected by dyslexia.