What counts as a “real” word?

Last week Clare shared a TED talk exploring how texting is affecting language (If you haven’t read that post, here it is: https://literacyteaching.net/2015/01/22/txtng-is-killing-language-jk/ ). In a follow-up to her blog post, I am sharing another fascinating talk on “What Makes a Word Real?”

English Professor, Anne Curzan, poses questions to the audience which intend to challenge what makes a word “real” and who gets to decide. She asks: “Who writes dictionaries?”; “Are you bothered by language change?”; and “Who has the authority to make a world real?”

Curzan believes words are made “real” when a “community of speakers” use a word often and for a long time. She makes the point that these words “fill a gap” in the English language. Funny examples of words she’s seen gain traction recently:

                    Screen shot taken from TED Talk

Curzan argues dictionaries have been viewed as a book of truths not to be critiqued for too long. In fact, she points out that dictionary editors look to us to decide what words are “real.” In conclusion, she states:

 “Dictionaries are a wonderful guide and resource, but there is no objective dictionary authority out there that is the final arbiter about what words mean. If a community of speakers is using a word and knows what it means, it’s real. That word might be slangy, that word might be informal, that word might be a word that you think is illogical or unnecessary, but that word that we’re using, that word is real.”

TED Talk Link:

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