Is That A Real Word?

by bdhesse

I just listened to a Ted talk about how words become acceptable. The speaker, who has a degree in English, said that she often gets people who feel the need to discuss what’s wrong with English. She mentioned one guy who said “defriend? Is that even a real word?” Her question was “how do words become real words?”

This is a great question. languages change constantly. Early English isn’t even recognizable to most of us today. So how do words become “real words”? Simply: they get used. Eventually that word is accepted by mainstream society. When I was a kid, teachers were always giving us a hard time about using “ain’t.” Now “ain’t” is a word. It’s got a dictionary definition.

So, if language is so fluid, and words merely have to be accepted to become “real words,” why are so many people worried about new words? Is it merely the human fear of change? Is it entropy? It’s not how things used to be, therefore it’s bad. Maybe both? Is there a third option?

What new words are awesome? What new words are problematic?