Bootyful, cyw, scrims. Do you know these words? If not, you soon might. They are some of the fastest growing words from online niches around the world, as identified by new software that charts the rise ofonline.
Bootyful, an alternative spelling for beautiful, has had a dramatic rise in usage on Twitter in South Wales. Cyw (coming your way) has become popular in the north of the country. Scrims comes from gaming forums, where it refers to practice sessions before competitive games.
The software that found these words was developed byand his supervisor, Matthew Rowe, at Lancaster University, UK. Kershaw and Rowe took established methods lexicographers use to chart the popularity of words, translated them into algorithms, then applied them to 22 million words worth of twitter and Reddit posts.
Their goal is to peer into the niche portions of the internet, and chart novel language making its foray out into the mainstream. “If we see an innovation taking off on Reddit or Twitter, the question is what point is it going to appear in a newspaper,” says Matthews.
Kershaw and Matthews’ algorithms don’t just pick out frequently used words, but words that have gone through a sudden rise in popularity. This comes with some complications. The five fastest rising words in central London for the period they studied were all Spanish or Portuguese, unlikely to be reflecting the reality of London’s language scene.
“There’s something very exciting that’s happening now,” says Katherine Martin, Head of US Dictionaries at Oxford University Press, based in New York. “A lot of things that would have been oral, and therefore never recorded, are being recorded as text, and are therefore searchable and findable.”
“You could imagine scaling this up and delving into something that’s still a mystery – what makes a word succeed or not succeed,” she says. “There’s definitely things to uncover there.”
Martin says the Oxford University Press is using automated methods that are similar to Kernshaw and Matthew’s to stay on top of online language evolution. “We’re spidering the web, analysing 100 million words of English in use each month from a variety of sources. Then we can track the increases that happen month to month.”
In December, Oxford Dictionaries, including phablet, waybread, and bank of mom and dad.
Martin says that online communication isn’t necessarily accelerating, but rather making that evolution easier to see. “It was always changing, but a lot of the cycles went without leaving a mark – there might have been some slang that took hold with kids in Southern Illinois and no one ever wrote it down.”
The internet also provides a way to distribute new language around the world that was previously limited to major TV stations. An example of this is “on fleek”, which means “looking good”. Its first known utterance was in ain June 2014, referring to her eyebrows. Within months, the phrase had made it into a Nicki Minaj song. Monroee’s original video has been watched 38 million times.
This online swirl of creation and distribution is a challenge for linguists, says David Barnhart, a lexicographer from Massachusetts whose framework Kershaw and Matthews wrote into software. The internet means it’s no longer difficult to, as it was in days when print was the only medium. “The problem being how to sort out the useful from the ‘useless’ evidence,” says Barnhart.
Image credit: Gilles Coulon/Tendance Floue
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