There is nothing quite like meeting a word every teenager knows, but you don't, for making you feel you are in the wrong generation. The same thing may happen with teenage music (how many people over 25 would recognise a One Direction hit) but as a language teacher you feel that words are your world and therefore you should be 'in the know'. This is especially the case as words have an etymology and surely the meaning can be derived from the Latin/Greek/French/German root. So it is with Meme. The word comes from the Greek mimema meaning something imitated and then gets a bit of help along the way from the word gene. Genes are transmitted biologically, memes through cyberspace. A gene is unit which carries our DNA , a meme is a unit which carries cultural ideas - an image, a phrase, a video clip.
But language is like that and the internet spawns new words at a terrifying rate. Imagine, some people remember the day they heard the word 'software' for the first time and the confusion it caused.
The Oxford English Dictionary evaluates new words and adds 500 to the dictionary every quarter. There are specific criteria of course - in general the word has to be used by more than one writer, it has to appear in print or online (not just in speech), and the lexicographers try to assess whether its use is simply ephemeral or whether it will be lasting. A very tricky assessment. In the past, a word had to have been in use for two or three years - this is no longer a requirement in our digital age. A word can achieve tremendous currency very quickly.
So what do we find in the June update? A selfie is in - maybe the only surprising thing is that it wasn't on the list earlier. A bezzie - both as a noun and adjective. But what on earth is it? A best friend of course. And I like a dreamcatcher - a small hoop made of horsehair mesh and decorated with beads that will give its wearer good dreams. An American Indian word apparently but surely everyone should have one.
Meanwhile the Merriam Webster dictionary has its own updates. In are hashtag, selfie (again) and tweep. OK, this last one threw me but it makes sense - a person who uses Twitter to send or receive tweets. Easy! But what about gamification - adding games or game elements to increase participation; steampunk - the linking of 19th century sci-fi (steam-powered of course) to cyberspace; and catfish - yes, a rather ugly whiskered fish but also person who sets up a false online profile for fraudulent purposes.
How many of these new words will stay the course? To find out watch this space 5 years from now. My bet is not more than one in 10. And while we are on the subject has anyone got a new word for new words that fall at the first fence? Answers on a postcard or by Twitter.....