Embracing Slang, LOL

SOPHIE THORPE dives into the new and unfamiliar world of scrabble slang and asks whether words without vowels should have made it into our dictionary after all.

English grandpa language scrabble slang

“Grrrl” has recently been added to The Scrabble Dictionary: a volume symbolic of our nation’s nerdy obsession with words and spelling. Not being familiar with the term, I turned to the oracle that is The Oxford English Dictionary, where the existence of this vowel-less word had been recognised for over two years.

One of the quotations proffered to aid me in my understanding was the following: “I was always a grrrl. I was always blatantly sexual and raunchy.? I relate to the grrrls of today.” It’s nice that somebody does, because apparently I have fallen behind in the slang/slag stakes, grrrl or no grrrl. I half-expected, and half-hoped, that such a word wouldn’t have weaseled its way into my beloved OED.

I think of our nation’s great lexical compilation as a quintessentially English grandfather figure, who indulges my secret love of words by offering me etymologies and quotations galore. You most certainly wouldn’t swear in front of him. Yet, I like to think reluctantly, he has embraced LOL and OMG, while I remain embarrassed when I accidentally drop them into conversation, and proceed to pretend that my usage is ironic.

I used to be a stickler for the “correct” usage of English; the American pronunciation of “schedule” would send me into fits; split infinitives pushed me to physical abuse; but I’ve come to realise that language belongs to the people who speak it. So how can their usage of it possibly not be “correct”?

That said, perhaps there are limits. Are we letting our standards slide by permitting our street slang to become part of the verbal heritage which will be passed down the line to our children’s children? Although we might look upon the formal acceptance of slang as a decline, would the disregard of current usage prevent its development?

France would say yes, where the Academie Francaise is dedicated purely to the protection of their language. They try to bar anglicisms, proposing what they consider to be more French alternatives. Inevitably, they fail in such an endeavour.

At the end of the day survival of the fittest applies in relation to our vocabulary as much as it does to the animal kingdom and its a dog eat dog world. Languages are tools of power, they pillage in the same way as the people who speak them. The only reason that English has survived is through acceptance of the French invasion, and absorption of Gallic vocabulary.

If the OED doesn’t change with the times, English may soon be one of the 25 languages that die every year. While grandpa and his lexicographers are limbering up and rediscovering their youth, we remain trapped in an academic world that persists in preaching prescriptive rules. In 1959, Carl Sandburg wrote in The New York Times that “Slang is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work.” As long as communication is maintained, why shouldn’t our language be more blue-collar than white-collar?

The OED represents our nation, quirks and all. There’s no picking and choosing when it comes to your kin. LOL, OMG and even grrrl are the black sheep in the family, the prodigal children, that the OED, and we, should greet with open arms, whether we share their morals or not.