Getting L33t Into The Oxford English Dictionary

Written by Ben Hardwidge

April 7, 2011 | 07:27

Tags: #diamond #dictionary #english #l33t #lol #omg #oxford

Companies: #oxford-university

Will L33t Ever Be In The OED?


'I think they'll have to take the step that OMG and LOL have,' says Diamond. 'You're absolutely right, a lot of people in the Internet environment, as it were, use them completely with the expectation of being understood immediately. But they'd need to take that step into a slightly wider arena – you see OMG and LOL in newspapers, for example, which are a great barometer of what a general English-speaking audience is expected to understand. Speaking for myself, I have seen things like ROFL a couple of times, but not a huge number of times, in print.'

Diamond is keen to point out that this isn't a form of snobbishness with regards to the Internet, though. 'The risk we run is that it sounds like we're dignifying print above electronic media, and we're not – it's what that transfer indicates in terms of the audience that's expected to understand; it's not some knee-jerk response that implies a word is worth less in an electronic format. Our criteria apply as much to words that have an affinity with electronic media as they do with words that come up in journals or books.'

*Getting L33t Into The Oxford English Dictionary Will L33t Ever Be In The OED?
Why print a definition when you have pictures such as this?

The inclusion of net-speak acronyms such as OMG and LOL is perhaps the first step in recognising net-speak as a part of the English language, but what about all the other phrases that have come about because of the Internet? In particular, we wanted to know whether l33t speak could ever be included in the dictionary. For a start, would the inclusion of numbers in the word would prove to be barrier?

'It wouldn't,' confirms Diamond, 'we get asked this quite often actually in relation to text messaging, with l8r for later and so on.' He also notes that the OED already has what he calls headword entries, citing the example of 1471 (for international readers, that's the four-digit code that you dial on UK phones to discover the number of the last caller), which has its own entry due to its popular use in British writing over the last 20 years.

Whatever the reason for its inclusion, though, 1471 is made up entirely from numbers and this didn't stop it from getting included in the OED. Would having numbers in the middle of a word, such as l33t, prevent it from being included? Not according to Diamond. 'If the word contains numbers in its most current and normal form, then we'd use that,' he says.

*Getting L33t Into The Oxford English Dictionary Will L33t Ever Be In The OED?
Leet is already in the dictionary, but not as a contraction of 'elite,' and there are no numbers either

'L33t is obviously a respelling and a contraction [of elite], so it would be a separate entry, and yes it is familiar to me, so I think it's something we would consider for inclusion. I don't know if you could drop l33t-speak into a newspaper column and people would know what it meant without explanation yet; I suspect not by and large.' We point out that they probably will in the future, and Diamond concurs. 'Yeah, I agree with you. I think it's got a good chance, but it may not quite cross the line yet.'

So there you have it. There's absolutely nothing to stop l33t-speak and other forms of net-speak being included in the Oxford English Dictionary and becoming officially recognised as a part of the English language. What's more, as no words are ever removed from the OED, this also means that they'll be preserved for posterity in the future, possibly enabling future generations to make sense of our archaic captions for cat photos. L33t-speak and net-slang just need to prove they have staying power and transcend the digital world into everyday usage – some of them probably aren't even that far off. Keep using them, and they'll probably make it into the OED.
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