The Editorial: (Your Words Here)

The Editorial: (Your Words Here)

It’s always seemed quaint to me that Oxford and Webster still go through the trouble to formally ‘admit’ new words into the English language every year. Web words, buzzwords, passing neologisms, schoolyard slang… and all of a sudden, “ginormous” makes it! It’s a real word! And at long last, you can officially use “retweet” in a game of Scrabble. But it all seems like a tireless quest to contain something that generally can’t be contained, like in the Academie Française’s futile attempt a decade or so ago to replace the word “email” in the French language with the anodyne “courriel.” Language grows as it goes, bitches.

Now, for posterity’s sake it’s probably a good thing that someone bothers to put these buzzwords du jour down on a printed page, lest we forget them forever within a few years time. I’m just old enough to remember a few volumes worth of Encyclopaedia Britannica hanging around dustily on a living room shelf… remember when they were the one-stop-shop for science and animals and history and faraway Iplaces? But just a few short spins around the sun and those stolid, proud-looking books are aaaaaaaaancient. Like, prehistoric. Like, dead and gone. Like, completely and utterly useless.

But thankfully for us, there’s the Internet. Our swirling, at-the-edge-of-chaos, superconnected source for everything good and evil. The conduit for our culture and the most supremely dynamic platform ever devised for the sharing of human knowledge. And just like language itself, it invents and subverts and redefines itself like a force of nature. So, it seems like old misters Oxford and Webster best just leave the wordsmithing to the great collective brain. Open-source Urbandictionary and Wikipedia and their more specialised online cousins, afterall, are the source of all that we know nowadays. (And I mean that only half jokingly.)

So in an infinite stroke of genius, Felix Heyes and Ben West, two students at Kingston University, took to Google to create their very own version of the dictionary. (Hey, why not? We’re all authors of our culture, now.) For every word in the existing dictionary, the two used an algorithm to take the most prominent finding in an image search to make for a visual record of, well, us. And without throwing around the old ‘picture is worth a thousand words’ adage too much, this exercise in culture mining is far, far more indicative of the state of human language and society than any dictionary that almost arbitrarily lets “gaydar” and “grrrrrl” onto its pages. Several thousand images of porn, gore, and plastic celebrities later, it’s a look into an all-seeing mirror. And just like the day after an all night rager, you might not much like what you see staring back at you… but it’s real!

And since my Webster-backed computer spell check has just claimed that “rager” isn’t a word, my work here is clearly done.

Tag Christof – Images courtesy of Ben West