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How Social Media Is Changing the English Language (and Why It Matters to Marketers)

by Alex Brown  |  
September 12, 2012

Technology is changing the way we communicate. From 140-character Twitter limits to an ever-expanding list of text messaging acronyms, technology is clearly having an impact on language and the words we use to relate to one another.

For more than 200 years, Collins Dictionary has been one of the world's most respected dictionaries and a gatekeeper of the English language. Recently, we at Collins opened up to crowdsourcing, inviting English speakers from around the globe to suggest words they believe should be included in the lexicon.

As a result of our crowdsourcing initiative, we're discovering that social media is playing an important role not only in introducing new terms into the dictionary but also in accelerating the rate at which new terms reach critical mass in the culture. More important, we're learning that social media and crowdsourcing are helping us do a better job in achieving the objectives at the heart of our publishing.

Crowdsourcing the English Language

Staying current with the pace at which the English language is evolving is difficult. Online technology is a driving force in the rapid creation and proliferation of new words. These days, people are just as likely to turn to a dictionary to look up terms they encounter online as they are to search for words they have encountered at school or work.

By crowdsourcing suggestions for new words, Collins Dictionary is able to match the pace of the culture, creating opportunities to record new words as they arise. Because each word suggestion is subject to a rigorous vetting process, crowdsourcing allows us to stay credible and current at the same time.

Many of the suggestions we're seeing are directly related to social media ("tweeps," "cyberstalking," "twitlit") or they have achieved widespread recognition thanks to the social media activities of pop culture influencers ("Tebowing," "photobombing," "YOLO").

But social media also plays a part in encouraging participation by celebrities, bloggers, and the public, making the selection process even more complete by ensuring the widest possible range of entries. Online networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ fuel discussions around suggested words, increasing the likelihood of the term's inclusion in the dictionary and accelerating the adoption of the word by popular culture.

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Alex Brown is the head of digital at Collins Dictionary.

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  • by Theresa Letman Wed Sep 12, 2012 via web

    Alex - thanks for sharing a perspective of how you're embracing social media vs. fearing it. You mention the benefits above, but I'm certain the crowdsourcing may have also provided some unexpected opportunities or challenges? I'd love to hear about the challenges, too.

  • by Pete Goodrum Mon Jun 16, 2014 via web

    How Social Media is changing the English Language................a clue is in the title. 'Media' is a plural, which means that this title should be 'How Social Media are changing the English language'................

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