The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Bada-Bing! The Oxford English Dictionary Taps into Internet Culture

When I think about standardization of language, my first thought is to refer to the dictionary. Sam Winston, a UK artist, has done some neat pieces that use dictionaries as a springboard for playing with language and text. What I like about this project is that the artist’s intent is to make art accessible – which in the context of this course relates back to the press as means to make literature accessible to the masses. Here is short video clip of the project Dictionary Story.

In the video clip, Winston mentions James Gleick’s article for the New York Times, Cyber-Neologoliferation as a source of inspiration. As this course has fueled my interest in language and technology, I decided to search this article out.

Before reading the article I did not have a clue what ‘neologoliferation’ meant. What I learned is that neologism refers to “a newly coined word that may be in the process of entering common use, but has not yet been accepted into mainstream language (Wikipedia, Neologism, para. 1). This word seems completely appropriate to use in the context of the Oxford English Dictionary and their pursuit to capture “a perfect record, perfect repository, perfect[ly] mirror of the entire [English] language (Gleick, 2006, para. 5).

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has a long history, dating back about a century and half, and has played an essential role in standardizing the English language. In his article, Gleick explores the workings of the dictionary today and how the online environment is changing the evolution of language. The OED has evolved its immense printed resource of 20 volumes in its second edition to a 3rd edition that now resides completely online. The Internet has not only been a vehicle that houses the dictionary but a tool that allows lexicographers to eavesdrop on the “expanding cloud of messaging in speech” that occurs in resources such as newspapers, online news groups and chat rooms (para. 2).

With these tactics for tapping into culture, the dictionary has moved from being a ‘dictionary of written of language’, where lexicographers comb through works of Shakespeare to find words, to one where ‘spoken language’ is the resource (para.12). Surprisingly, text messaging also serves as a source for new vocabulary. Beyond OED’s hunting and gathering processes, the general public can also connect with them to have a new word assessed for inclusion into the dictionary. The ‘living document’ of the dictionary now seems to require of the participation of the masses. With this, more and more colloquial language is being added to the dictionary (e.g. bada-bing).

The printing press worked to standardized spelling but according to Gleick (2006) with mass communication spelling variation is on the rise. With the Internet, OED is coming to terms with the boundlessness of language. In the past variations of the English language were spoken in many different pockets around the world. These variations still exist but now are more accessible through the Internet (Gleick, 2006). Peter Gilliver, a lexicographer at OED believes that the Internet transmits information differently than past vehicles for communication. He suggests that the ability to broadcast to the masses or communicate one-to-one is impacting the change in language. For OED, the ability to tap into a wide variety of online conversations affords a more accurate representation of word usage all over the world.

Standards in language help us to clearly communicate in a way that is commonly understood. This article makes me wonder, with all the slang being added to the dictionary, what will language look like in 50 years? 100 years? Will a new English language evolve? How will this affect spoken and written language? Will standards become more lax? With all these questions, OED becomes an important historical documentation of the evolution of the English language.


Gleick, J. (2006, November 5). Cyber-neologoliferation. New York Times. Retrieved October 18, 2009, from

Neologism. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia:

October 21, 2009   No Comments