May 29, 2011

MUST NOT BE A METS FAN:

As Slang Changes More Rapidly, Expert Has to Watch His Language: Web Makes Keeping Up With Argot Tough; Mr. Dalzell Is a Real 'Big Noise,' Though (VAUHINI VARA, 5/27/11, WSJ)

Tom Dalzell was thrilled last month when he came across a weird new verb: "rickroll."

Then he went online and saw that "rickrolling"—the Internet prank that involves sending someone a link to the music video for Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up"—has been around for four years. That's an eon in the world of slang, enough time to render a term stale.
Biffle? Stooper? Smoot?

View Interactive

See if you can guess the meaning of some slang words.

More photos and interactive graphics

For most people, being late to a language trend isn't a problem. But Mr. Dalzell, a 59-year-old union leader by day and slang expert after hours, is now in the process of updating the New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. And as informal language evolves faster than ever, Mr. Dalzell is finding it trickier to keep up.

"Yesterday's cutting-edge is today's ho-hum," he says.

The problem: Slang is born when groups outside the mainstream invent their own language—verbal code that can quickly lose its punch once others catch on. That process used to take a while. But now that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter let people post messages for anyone to see, slang gets exposed much more quickly.

"It's really shortened the shelf life," says Mr. Dalzell, who is considered to be a real "big noise," or a very important person, among word whizzes like Jesse Sheidlower, editor-at-large at the Oxford English Dictionary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 29, 2011 9:18 AM
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