The Real Word
Blathering recently, I stumbled across a point, which I've picked up polished and humbly submit to you. I was playing boggle and the question came up, as it so often does, if a word played was a 'real' word. Which begs the question what is a real word and who's the authority on its authenticity? For our purposes and the purposes of our modern age the dictionary defines which words are official and which are not. But it has not always been so, it is not always so, and the world of words is at a turning point.
Pre-dictionary, words were made authentic by consensus. If two people agreed on the meaning of a word it was 'real'. Families, countries, and even blacksmiths each had their own unique sets of words loosely connected by an organic flow of spellings and pronunciations. But this egalitarian utopia was shattered with the formalization of the standard dictionary made common by the printing press.
You see, the dictionary acts a sort of fence around language, words which are included are official. Because the print dictionary is limited by page count, it has to weed out a number of would-be-words. After the dictionary's historic standardization the words included inhabited a kingdom of legitimacy and those which weren't found themselves beyond the pale. However, these disenfranchised words remain influential. Vocation specific jargon and all manner of regional or technologically enabled slang moves outside the comfy confines of the dictionary. Occasionally, these barbaric words become so prominent that they invade the kingdom of the dictionary and establish themselves with the legitimacy of their privileged brethren.
However, the times are a changing. The Internet has given birth to the e-dictionary which is a modern wonder compared to the soon-to-be-archaic print dictionary. An e-dictionary has little space restriction and is free to define a myriad of words even if their use is extraordinarily obscure. As this e-dictionary replaces its traditional counterpart the lingo-fence will come to enclose a much wider pasture.
So what of the future in this newly expanded kingdom of language? It's hard to say exactly, but I might project one guess. E-dictionaries could readily include usage statistics: who uses the word in what context and how often. And so the question of legitimacy might not be a simple matter of inclusion or exclusion from the kingdom of the dictionary. Legitimacy might return to its egalitarian roots, decided by consensus. I hope this plays out. I like my language fluid and expanding. Still, I won't give you points for 'brb' in Boggle.