Oxford English Dictionary asks teenagers to explain modern slang

OED wants young people to share their ‘particularly elusive’ language, as it evolves through media such as Snapchat and WhatsApp

The venerable Oxford English Dictionary has launched an appeal to teenagers, hoping they can help it get to grips with slippery teenage slang such as “hench” and “dank”.

Citing its aim to “record all distinctive words that shape the language, old and new, formal and informal”, the OED said that slang terms were “always challenging” for dictionary editors to track. Young people’s language today is “particularly elusive”, because terms change rapidly and communication methods such as WhatsApp and Snapchat have made it more difficult to monitor the changing vocabulary.

In its youth slang appeal, the dictionary is asking children and teenagers to send in examples of current slang words, either on Twitter at #youthslangappeal or via its website. Adults are also invited to contribute, if they have examples of young people using “words that are completely unfamiliar to you – or familiar words in very unfamiliar ways”.

OED senior editor Fiona McPherson said: “Lexicographers are used to observing and recording language change. Yet, there’s something particularly innovative and elusive about the way that young people adapt existing vocabulary to make new words, and in doing so create what seems like a secret lexicon to those not in the know. Given that most of us at the OED left our teenage years behind some time ago, who better to help us identify creative new words and meanings than those who created and used them in the first place?”

The OED has been tracking a new sense of the word “bare” for a number of years, it said, citing a 2009 example from Twitter: “Friday is going to be the BUSIEST day of my life I think :) Bare things poppin’ off.” It will publish an entry for the slang term at the end of the year, with a draft version identifying it as chiefly British slang, meaning “many or much; a lot of”. The OED says this usage “appears to have originated in Caribbean English, and evolved from the sense ‘nothing but, too much of’”.

Other words it will be considering include “dank”, meaning “cool or great”, and “hench”, meaning “fit and muscular”. Words used by younger people “often have a bigger story to tell about varieties of English used by particular ethnic or cultural groups, and their influence on the language as a whole”, said the dictionary, which will be offering UK state schools free access to the OED online for this academic year in conjunction with its appeal.

Contributor

Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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