A new low for the Queen’s English, say grammarians

Article by Shirley Stickle


PRAGUE—The Prague Linguistic Circle has declared a day of mourning to commemorate the ascension of the word smishing into the Merriam Webster dictionary. “We cannot abide the legitimization of such a superfluous word,” stated Petr Kaderka the editor-in-chief of the group’s quarterly Slovo A Slovesnost (Word and Word Art) journal.

Merriam has defended its position, claiming that the word meets their criteria for inclusion because it has been widely used since 2006, and conveys a specific and identifiable meaning;“the practice of sending text messages to someone in order to trick the person into revealing personal or confidential information which can then be used for criminal purposes.” What Canadians might better know as, those annoying texts you get ten times a day from those ‘damn scammers’.

Why does this need to be a word, you ask? How did that even come up with it, and who uses it? To shed light on the issue, I sat down with the editor-in-chief of the Dictionary of Common Illiteracy (DCI), Aldrich Asterisk to find out more.

Apparently terrified that they might be branded as elitist, other English-language dictionaries have followed Merriam Webster’s lead, and the DCI wasn’t about to be left behind. “The fact that smishing is just a combination of two pre-existing English words — or rather a combination of an acronym and a word — SMS (short message service) and phishing, is not terribly important,” said Asterisk. “It is not a dictionary’s job to assess whether a word is necessary before defining it. The fact that a word is generally viewed as nonstandard, or as illustrative of poor education, is likewise not important. Dictionaries define the breadth of the language, and not simply the elegant parts at the top.”

The elevation of smishing has stoked fears that other non-words might receive similar formal approval. How long until supposably, exscape, and pacifically all take their turn in the spotlight?

These developments are taking place in a brave new world of shifting grammar and word usage. Thanks largely to personal make-over and home-renovation TV shows, for example, the use of the word reveal as a noun has now become accepted as normal. Case in point: in the forthcoming revision of the King James Bible, the Four Horsemen and the War In Heaven will appear in The Book Of Reveals.

Asked whether the DCI was at all ambivalent about its role in the degradation of the English language, Professor Asterisk averred, “We coulda done worse, so we musta done good.”

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