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Lexipoeia: The Columnist’s Dilemma & eLexicography

Posted by lifestyle On February - 18 - 2007

Giving English a friendly push!By Sam Linton

Okay! Wow! Well, it seems that my last article in this series was particularly well received, in circles extending even slightly beyond my immediate network of family and friends. Yes, apparently cuntwaste is the word we all needed. Neat!

But now, I admit, I’m worried. If I want to keep “Lexipoeia” going as a semi-regular column, does that mean I have to come up with that type of brilliance all the time? Can I do that? What if I try and fail? What if I try, succeed, and then everyone hates me for being a prat? If only there was some way, someone I could pass the buck to on this thorny issue, some type of… readership, perhaps?

Of course! The readers! Why, I’ll bet they (you) have loads of brilliant ideas on the future of the language. Maybe they’ve (you’ve) come up with them in conversation, on a blog, in a poem (do not send me your poetry), but they’d (again, you’d) like a semi-professional critique on their (I’m going to stop with these parenthetical asides; I’m sure you/they get the idea) new word or turn of phrase.

So here’s the deal: You come up with the word/turn of phrase you want popularized, I’ll give the helpful, linguophilic commentary and maybe suggest a few tweaks. I’m not saying that my opinion is of a higher value than yours, but hey, I am the one writing the lexicographical column here, plus extra exposure for your new contribution to the language can’t hurt, right? Just send an email to samlinton (at) with “Lexipoeia” in the subject line. Be sure to spell it right, because I won’t read misspelled emails. Being on the internet is not an excuse to ignore the rules, Dammitt!

Of course, the printing of reader submissions will still be subservient to my own ideas for language; it is, after all, my column. Which brings me to this week’s mini-topic of “coining the phrase”. We live in a global age (arguably, we have lived in a “global age” since at least 1492, but that’s not what I mean here), where it is no longer enough to have something recognized in the immediate circle of one’s friends.

With the advent of the internet in all our lives, it has never been so abundantly clear that you, the people you know, and everyone that you have ever communicated with, make up only a tiny fraction of the world’s population. Hell, you only make up a tiny fraction of the english-speaking population of the world. The chances of you becoming the next Alexander Pope (a man whose words are oft quoted) are slim, at best (unless you’re really good at writing, in which case I apologize, Mr. Vonnegut).

However, if you don’t mind the anonymity, the internet can be a useful tool for bandying things about. Just ask the guy who coined the term “pwned”. Well, you can’t, because no one knows who (s)he is, but you get the idea. The point is that on the internet, no amount of self-promotion for your own word is excessive, because no one knows who you are. You can’t accuse someone anonymous of shameless egotism, can you? The multiplicity of the internet is also crucial to the dissemination of bon mots; where “pwned” started out in multiplayer games (I’m betting Starcraft), it’s catchiness quickly lent its use to online forums, political discourse, and, of course, Wikipedia articles. Wikipedia: another great source for the introduction of a phrase, as it has a kind of quasi-legitimation built right in!

I’ll leave the discourses on how wiki works to Stephen Colbert (smarter AND funnier than me), but for today’s lexicographer on the go, it is another great resource to be exploited. My “in language” addition to their article on the onion has been up for at least the past six months. Does this make “dicing one’s onion” a legitimate phrase. Yes, it does. If it weren’t, it would have been deleted long ago [Readers: please don’t delete my onion addendum].

Anyway, my point is this: the internet seems to work as a fragmented community of subcultures that occasionally cross over and into one another. The more cultures you frequent and popularize, the more the internet (and therefore, society) will start to sound like you want it to. I don’t know whether or not this is actually true, but I feel it’s an approach worth cultivating. And remember, another valuable resource in popularizing your contributions to the lexicon is this column. You can even have your name attached, if you want it. As I said before, it’s a living language. Let’s keep it that way!

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