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W.W.B.T–What Would Burke Think?

March 27, 2011

We recently learned that Burke is regarded by many political experts as the father of modern conservatism.  His “Reflections on the Revolution in France” is now considered to be the platform in conservative thought.  As conservatism’s supposed “founder”, Burke believed in the promotion of the maintenance of tradition as the most valuable source of knowledge, adherence to values, and, at most, only slight or gradual change in society.

So if Burke was such a critic of innovation, what would he have thought of the prestigious Oxford English Dictionary’s recognition of expressions like ‘OMG’, ‘FYI’, and ‘LOL’ as real words worthy of being added to its latest print?

As stated by CNN, “’FYI’ (for your information), ‘LOL’ (laughing out loud), and ‘OMG’ (oh my god) [or oh my gosh/goodness, depending on one’s preference] are all now formally recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary…” (

The dictionary’s explanation?  Because the phrases have been adopted, used, and understood by an expansive audience and have been in use for a “decent length of time”.

Personally, this explanation is kind of ridiculous.  Just because a ‘word’ has been in use for a long time and is widely understood does not necessarily give it the right, for lack of better term, to be in such a premier dictionary.

Looking at it from Burke’s perspective, I suppose that such a commonly used phrase or word could be considered “traditional”, but shouldn’t the value of the word come into play as well?

The article reports that the abbreviation “WAG” is an official new entry to the dictionary.  WAG is an abbreviation for ‘wives and girlfriends’ when referring to the partners of soccer players.

…Really?  Do people really say “WAG” often enough for it to be included in the dictionary?  I, myself, have never heard the term.  And if such abbreviations are deemed important enough to be in the Oxford English Dictionary, shouldn’t slang or swear words that are thrown around on a daily basis also be included?  I’m fairly certain that this is why we have separate slang dictionaries.

It is understandable that the dictionary would strive to keep up with modern changes in vocabulary, but there should be a limit or a distinction as to what types of words should be added.  People should not have to pay more for a dictionary that includes such contrived “words” as WAG or LOL.

So what do you think?  Firstly, is it right for such a high-end dictionary to find words like this necessary to include?  And secondly, what would the ultra-conservative Edmund Burke think of this stray from tradition?

  1. Rian Handler permalink
    March 27, 2011 10:34 PM

    I completely agree with your article. I, too, have never heard of the “word” WAG and I think it’s ridiculous that it is going to be included in the Oxford Dictionary. Like you said, that is why we have a separate slang dictionary. If words like these are acknowledged by Oxford, does that mean we can use them in scholarly writing? It is simply unnecessary for Oxford to include these “words,” it serves no purpose.

  2. Anthony Sinishtaj permalink
    March 28, 2011 1:42 PM

    Did the Oxford Dictionary state that these words were internet lingo or slang, or do they treat them like any other abbreviation? And to answer whether Burke would think if it were legitimate to put LOL in the Oxford Dictionary; it would depend. If Burke were living now, he would probably not accept having LOL in the dictionary. However, if Burke was a citizen of America 50 years in the future, he may accept it. For example, Burke speaks well of liberty and such, as they are a part of British culture in the 18th century. However, I doubt Burke would have praised liberty as much if he were born in 14th century Britain. How far back conservatives go to look for what tradition to follow is a very important thing to look into.

  3. Brian Fisher permalink
    March 28, 2011 2:55 PM

    I think dictionaries should put in as many words as possible with no limitations or constrictions. The dictionary is a resource where people can find the definition to a word. I dont think that it should hold against certain words because these may seem “slang” or “untraditional”. We continuously modernize our ways of thinking and likewise should update the dictionary as often as possible.
    I agree with your assessment of Edmund Burke’s feeling towards updating the dictionary. Burke would by all means disapprove the OED from allowing these new words to enter the vocabulary. However, I am unsure of this assessment because I do not know how the great theorist views news words being added to the dictionary.

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