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Flash Mobs and Hopheads Explained: From Slang to the OED


Addiction. Bedazzled. Eyeball. Fashionable. Swagger. Uncomfortable. These are all perfectly familiar words, right? There’s something else they have in common however – yes, they might have all been associated with Kate Moss at some point in her career, but more importantly, they were all coined for the first time by none other than William Shakespeare. Granted, he was in a pretty powerful position of poetic license at the time, and able to write down the first of many of our modern-day expressions, but how has the progression of the English language developed since? Has it?

Stunted growth

Words and languages, like any other field of study, burst ahead at the beginning when everything is new and exciting. But after a while it reaches a certain plateau where almost no progression is made, and there it sits, idle, until someone shakes things up. Now of course there will always be new languages to learn to keep things exciting, but the development of such has definitely come to a slight standstill. In saying this, with the help of a globalised media, the world is constantly introduced to a number of brand spanking new words, not all of them unappealing.

From slang to the Oxford English Dictionary?

2013 saw the introduction of a fair few number of new words, from flash mob (defined as a public gathering of complete strangers, organized via the internet or mobile phone, who perform a pointless act and then disperse again) to hophead (a drug addict or heavy drinker, depending on which part of the world you’re from). How does this happen? New words pop up from a number of sources – analysis, editorial spotting, user suggestions – and are added to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) database. They then go through a rigorous series of questions – is it used by a number of sources? Is it limited to specific groups, like teenagers? Will it stand the test of time? Does it have a broader use (can it be turned into a verb, for instance)? Then and only then do they go through the steps of drafting the definition, before eventually entering it into the books forever.

Or from slang into the rubbish bin?

As exciting as these new, creative times are, there are also a number of words that should have never been uttered, scribbled down, or thought of in the first place. Just as there is a collection for the favourite words of every year (2012 saw ‘omnishambles’ in the UK and ‘hashtag’ in the US top that list), there is also a special part of linguistic hell reserved for those voted the ‘banished words of the year.’ Started by the Lake Superior State University in 1975, the 2013 list now includes the overused-by-everyone-with-internet-access ‘trending’, as well as the seemingly harmless ‘passion’, or ‘passionate’. These people are not picky. It’s safe to say if it was used in a Bieber song, or tweeted by a Kardashian, it will make this list. Nearing the top of the list this year? The infamous ‘YOLO’ (You Only Live Once), which we have Canadian rapper Drake to ‘thank’ for.

What are we left with?

Well, we have two options. We can either crawl into a hole in the ground and cry ourselves to sleep every night over the degeneration of our literary age (Fifty Shades of Grey, I’m talking to you), or we can celebrate the fact that English is not dead. Not even close. In fact, it’s twitching with new life. And while the people who are in a position to spread the good word(s) might be stumbling along through things like ‘selfie’ (a picture taken of yourself, by yourself, on a handheld device) and ‘humblebrag’ (the attempt to cover up the fact that you’re bragging by inserting humility), there will always be words like ‘dragoon’, ‘kerfuffle’, ‘discombobulated’ and ‘buncombe’ for us to fall back on.

If you’ve suddenly started doubting your English abilities (and we don’t blame you), you might want to test out your skills with our free English level test here.