Don’t get all butthurt over it: a new crop of words enters the dictionary

Maybe you missed it late last month (I almost did), but Oxford Dictionaries, the umbrella organization for a slew of English language reference works (among them the OED, the OAD, and the Oxford Thesaurus of English) used their blog to note the recent addition of numerous contemporary terms to their semi-official registries of English. I believe they only do a big add once each year, but it seems like Oxford has gotten into the habit, quietly, of making small announcements every few months of new words they’ve added. Why this one got more attention, I’m not entirely sure — perhaps it was just a slow news day.

Among the new words (and there are a lot of them) are some that might stick (or already have), such as macgyver, fangirl, shareable, barbacoa, and butt-dial.

There are also a number that seem doomed to an uphill climb: Mx, wine o’clock, meeples, fat-shame, and hangry, for example.

And there are many in between (manspreading, bruh, cheffy, pwned) or with transitory relevance (Brexit, Grexit, Redditor). Only time will tell which stick and which don’t.

[Note that I’m not being judgmental: whether or not any of these words move into common use, I’m glad for the service Oxford does by documenting them for the historical record. It’s a little reassurance after the allegation a few years back that a top OED editor spent decades deleting words.]

Generating the most media eye rolling on the list was “butthurt.” This is a word I’ve encountered now and then over the past few years, but it blew up on my personal word radar around May of this year. One of the online groups I follow was the setting for a lively back-and-forth over the use and meaning of the term, which had a lot of misinterpretation. Since the OD definition is skimpy, here’s what you should know about butthurt (in too many words):

temporary, disproportionate resentment over an insult or ridicule, usually in online situations, analogous to being spanked; the offended (‘butthurt’) individual takes offense out of proportion to the insult or injury received; as with a physical spanking, the pain of the butthurt is only temporary and the offense might have gone unnoticed by others: the butthurt individual draws attention to the offense by behaving in a butthurt manner.

[Please don’t spam me with your thought on spankings — that’s not the issue.]

People have suggested this term implies extreme violence (“butt rape”) or is somehow homophobic, but they seem to do so without awareness of the colloquial use and intent of the term. Noting that someone is acting “butthurt” is no stronger language than saying “don’t get bent out of shape” or “he’s got his panties in a bunch” or “she got up on the wrong side of the bed.” The words might be more colorful, but they’re just a new metaphor for the same old thing. Will butthurt become a common word? Outside of certain circles, I doubt it. But it’s entered the lexicon — quite literally.

We’re very nearly into the “Word of the Year” cycle (which unfortunately begins as early as the end of September), so it’s easy enough to see Oxford’s blog post as a preliminary announcement for what will follow. They name their WOTY candidate in early or mid October. If you’re like me, and don’t approve of how they ignore a full quarter of the year, that’s okay. Just don’t get all butthurt about it.

[…If you’d told me when I started this blog that I’d one day dedicate a large chunk of a post to “butthurt” I wouldn’t have believed you. But it just happened.]

[For an alternate summary — OD’s blog entry is rather dense reading — try Katy Steinmetz’ review article at TIME (…that’s TIME, all caps: their internal standard seems to be to capitalize the magazine title, but to use normal capitalization when referring to the company, Time Inc.).]


About thebettereditor

Chris holds a BA degree in history from the University of Virginia and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree in writing from the University of Southern Maine (Stonecoast). He has worked extensively with professional and semi-professional writers and enthusiastic amateurs for about 20 years. He has several years experience in scientific publishing, but has also worked in information technology, insurance, health care, and education (he taught writing at the university level for a number of years). Since 2011, he's also specialized in helping small business meet their writing and editing needs on a budget.
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