Words, Words, and Emojis ... How the Oxford Dictionary Perceives English Changing
The "Word of the Year" and runners-up list has been released by Oxford. As reported by +USA TODAY
), the word of the year is not a word at all ... it's an emoji! Yes, the "tears of joy" smiling face topped the list because, apparently, 17 percent of all emojis used are this symbol.
Along with "lumbersexual" and "Dark Web," the runners up included:They
: "Used to refer to a person of unspecified sex." This particular new word has long been a thorn in technical writers' craws. What pronouns would you insert, for instance, in this instruction line?
• If a user forgets _____
can click the link.
Using "their" and "they" has been incorrect up to this moment. Since the subject "a user" is singular, the grammar rules call for singular pronouns — his/her and he/she, for example. It's very cumbersome, however, to write this way. (Speaking for myself, I generally avoid the construction by changing the sentence to plural from the start, as in If users forget their password, they can click the link.
But I'm a stickler.)
Acceptance of the plural pronoun "they" to refer to a singular person shows that Oxford Dictionaries has taken a descriptive
approach to capturing language change.
It seems fitting that the dictionary would be updated based on how people's language use evolves over time. So in general, I'm in favor of a descriptive approach.
The other approach is more prescriptive
, or telling people what grammatical structures and words they should be using. This would put the dictionary in the role of an objective authority. However, a dictionary should be useful for reference more than for rules, IMO.
However, there are limits. I still cringe to hear people start a sentence with "Her and me went ...," as if object pronouns were subject pronouns! While "they" may have become accepted, I'm hoping that many other grammar "mistakes" never will be, no matter how common they become. #grammar #rant #Oxford