Old News: Merriam-Webster’s Word of 2007

21 Dec


Originally uploaded by scjody.

Really? w00t is Merriam-Webster’s word of 2007? Is it even a word if it has numbers instead of vowels? How old do I sound right now?

But before I get my red pencils in a twist, I have to consider the source. See, there are two basic philosophies when it comes to creating dictionaries, usage guidelines, etc. You can either be descriptive (you’re basically recording how people are currently using the language) or prescriptive (you’re basically making a determination about what’s right). Something like urbandictionary.com or, my friend Andrew‘s favorite, wordie is descriptive. L’Académie française, the organization that cuts out undesirable words from the French language and crusades against the anglicization of français, well, they’re prescriptive. They’re also nonbinding, which sort of points to the inherent problem in being a prescriptive linguist — people probably won’t listen to you.

Back to my point, Merriam-Webster is more descriptive, the American Heritage Dictionary is more prescriptive. So by choosing “w00t,” Merriam-Webster is embracing and calling attention to their whole approach to cataloging the English language.

W00t is an example of l33t (pronounced “leet,” short for “elite”) speak, which, frankly, I think is kind of dumb. There are so many words that already exist in the English language that are interesting and descriptive and beautiful — why not learn how to use those words rather than making up your own?

But Andrew, my connection to all things under-30 and a person who often offers sensible counterpoints to my old-lady reactions, had a good point about l33t-speak: it’s great for passwords.

Now playing: “Stop Breaking Down” the Rolling Stones, “I Let You Go” George Jones and Melba Montgomery, “Bugle Call Rag” Stuff Smith


3 Responses to “Old News: Merriam-Webster’s Word of 2007”

  1. Andrew Mager December 25, 2007 at 7:48 am #


    9r3@ bL09 p0$7. 1 |\|3\/3r |<|\|3\/\/ 7|-|3 d1PhPh3r3|\|(3 b37\/\/33|\| pr3$(r1P71\/3 4|\|D d3$(r1P71\/3 L1|\|9U1$71($.

    1 7|-|1|\||< 7|-|@ /\/\\/\/ 1$ jU$7 7r’/1|\|9 70 4(7 (00L. 7|-|3 \/\/0rD \/\/007 1$ jU$7 /\/r3 PhU|\| 70 7’/P3 \/\/17|-| Z3r0$.

    3\/3|\| 7|-|0U9|-| j00Z (4|\|’7 r34D 7|-|1$ (0/\/\/\/\3|\|7 700 \/\/3LL, 17 $71LL |-|4$ /\/\34|\|1|\|9 🙂

    |-|4PP’/ |-|0L1D4’/$,

    To convert this comment back to English, paste it in here:


  2. Nicole December 25, 2007 at 7:43 pm #

    This is my favorite comment ever. Thanks, Mager.

  3. aharris May 10, 2008 at 11:03 am #

    say what? 1337 isn’t stupid. It has a very specific purpose. I’m posting this link so you can read up on your history:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: