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September 27, 2011

Schwa! Popular slang dictionary marks 20th anniversary at UCLA*


From Douglas Quenqua's story in Sunday's New York Times: "The U.C.L.A. Slang Dictionary, a compendium published every four years of the newest language on that campus, first included an entry on LOL as a spoken word in the 2005 edition. But Pamela Munro, the editor of the dictionary, said the practice didn't really take off until a few years after that."

From Meg Sullivan's July 29, 2009 UCLA Newsroom story:

Schwa! Popular slang dictionary marks 20th anniversary at UCLA

Crafted by linguistic students, it's been providing "eargasms" since 1989

Sister from another mister. Off the heezie. Recessionista. Bromance.

When you hear undergraduates utter these and other bewildering words and phrases, are you suddenly overcome with FOMO?

Now, I don't want to get all up in your biznatch — that is, to meddle in your business. But if the answer to the question is "full-on," you might want to check out the latest edition of "U.C.L.A. Slang."

Produced every four years in conjunction with an undergraduate linguistics course, the dictionary has become an institution at UCLA, where the slim volume with a yellow cover has been providing "eargasms" since 1989.

With more than 1,000 entries, "U.C.L.A. Slang 6" aims to serve as the latest word on slang used on the Westwood campus that — if students are correct — is "Under Construction Like Always."

"I tell my students, 20 years from now, you're still going to be using this slang," said Pamela Munro, the dictionary's founding editor and a UCLA professor of linguistics. "You're going to learn some new words but you're still going to be using these words and phrases, and people are going to think it dates you, because it will."

But thanks to the role that the entertainment industry plays in introducing and spreading slang, the dictionary may actually capture more.

"Slang seems to originate on the West Coast and move east because of Hollywood and the recording industry," said Munro, a noted authority on dictionary creation. "So 'U.C.L.A. Slang' tends to be a harbinger of slang that already is — or soon will be — spoken across the country."

For something so irreverent and lighthearted, "U.C.L.A Slang" is the product of a surprisingly regimented process. With each version, student contributors start from scratch, collecting potential entries from casual conversations with friends and fellow students, Munro said. The whole class discusses submissions entry by entry, working out a consistent way of analyzing the words and presenting entries, refining definitions and indicating usage, and clarifying examples, spelling and pronunciation.

The 160-page volume, complete with terms, definitions, parts of speech, sample sentences, usage notes and the etymology of words and phrases, provides a glimpse into how language in general and slang in particular form and evolve.

"Schwa" — a synonym for "wow" — exemplifies the rarest approach to slang creation: pulling new words out of thin air, Munro said.

Nouns mysteriously become verbs, as in "napster," now slang for the verb "to interrupt," and verbs morph into nouns, as in "epic fail," now slang for "what a mistake!" Nouns also become adjectives, with "Obama" now used as slang for "cool or rad," as in: You just aced that exam — you are so Obama!

The lingo of texting provided such visual entries as "QQ," an emoticon similar to a smiley face that, in this instance, stands for the verb "to cry."

When only a new word will do, blending — that is, adding the beginning of one word to the end of another word — is a common approach, Munro said. For example, "bromance" (brother + romance) is slang for an extremely close platonic friendship. Other blended confections from "Slang 6" include the noun "recessionista," a penny-pinching turn on "fashionista" (slang for "fashion maven" in flusher times), and "eargasm," which blends "ear" and "orgasm" to describe the sensation of hearing a beautiful sound.

U.C.L.A. Slang 6 costs $10.95.


*In fact, the 20th anniversary of the U.C.L.A. Slang Dictionary was marked by the 2009 publication of the 6th edition, which will remain the latest iteration until the scheduled appearance of the 7th edition, in concordance with the historical 4-year publication cycle, in 2013.


September 27, 2011 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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