What did a snowflake ever do to deserve this?
Time was, snowflakes were a metaphor for inclusiveness — no two were exactly alike, but they were all the same. But now the Oxford English Dictionary, the revered repository of vocabulary and usage, has expanded the definition of “snowflake” to include a derisive alternate meaning: A person who is “overly sensitive or as feeling entitled to special treatment or consideration.”
OMG ... has the OED’s editorial judgment gone AWOL?
Yes, yes, those who live to toss out insults have been using the word in this manner for some time; but that doesn’t mean it should get the stamp of approval from the pedantic powers that be — not to get all snowflakey about it.
In grade school, mumblemumble years ago, “rabbit” suddenly became the insult of choice — which never made sense, given how Bugs Bunny and (Bing-Bing-Binnng!) Ricochet Rabbit constantly outwitted their foes.
And while it was only the kids who had rabbit ears — on the sides of their head, not on the top of their televisions — who let the moniker get to them, being called a clever, wise-cracking, quick creature that can be pulled out of a magician’s hat shouldn’t have been that bad.
It’s not as though we had cooties.
This use of “rabbit” never multiplied fast enough to reach the dog-eared pages of the OED — unlike snowflake, which has the “benefit” of floating through cyberspace.
We can blame netspeak for many of the 1,000 new entries — from its over-reliance on acronyms, and from the aggressive and self-absorbed tone (more than 100 new entries alone beginning with “self-“) of modern communication.
“Mansplaining,” for instance, made the cut. (If you don't know what that is … ask a woman.) And “hangry” is now officially a word and not just a Snickers marketing meme.
I didn’t know we needed a word to describe the anger we feel from getting hungry; but it sure sounds like a first-world problem. I doubt many parents cite the millions of hangry children starving in Africa to force their children to eat their broccoli.
Back on this side of the Atlantic — where Oxford refers to a work shirt or a completely unnecessary comma — the linguistic archaeologists at Merriam-Webster this week increased the phrases, meanings, and wanderworts in their dictionary by 850 entries.
Including, obviously, "wanderwort" — a term that travels a great geographic distance to become adopted by a different culture. Which, I guess, is how snowflake wound up in the OED.
Back within Merriam-Webster's pages, Schnoodle, Yorkie-poo and Chiweenie … heretofore thought to be Star Wars characters … have been adopted as accepted mixed-breeds of dogs. (If that guy in the TV ads selling pickups with the help of his Labradoodle really wants to show how tough his truck is, he’ll mansplain it with his Chiweenie.)
M-W dumbed-down the English language even further by admitting interjections used by those stuck for the right word for a situation. “Ooh” officially has but two o’s, while “mm-hmm” and hmm” melt in your mouth with a pair of m’s.
If all these don’t seem like perfectly cromulent words, well then ... in the words of Jebediah Springfield, embiggen your noble spirit with the knowledge that "embiggen" can now be used without shame.
“Bandwidth,” meanwhile, has expanded past being the trees cut down to power the Internet to meaning a term for the emotional or mental capacity to handle a situation — for instance, when someone uses a “subtweet” to call another person a snowflake. Those without the proper emotional bandwidth to handle such an insult can utter a “welp” with complete confidence that they are "expressing resignation or disappointment” that welp is now in the dictionary.
Is it any wonder that Alexa has started laughing at us?
In January, a message in a bottle believed to be 131 years old was found on an Australian oceanside beach. It’s believed to have wanderworted its way off a German ship that was traveling from Wales to Indonesia and its age was determined by looking at the “cursive style, slant, font, spacing, stroke emphasis and capitalization” of the handwriting.
In 2149, if a similar bottle is found along an oceanside beach in Nebraska, those who find it will decipher the chatspeak, cyber slang and emojis and place a value judgment on our linguistic time period.
— Mail Tribune copy editor Robert Galvin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org