Evolution of English Language Dictionaries

I should admit up front that I am not a language specialist and also not an expert on dictionaries.

I recently listened to a podcast that talked about how dictionaries have been evolving, and how new words have entered the dictionaries, but sadly at the cost of deletion of some of the classic English Language words which we would look for quite frequently about 25 years ago.

Many new words have crept in from the start of the digital era, followed by the internet era and the mobile era — words like ‘ping’, ‘texting’, ‘Lol’: all short texting language — and of course the COVID-19 Pandemic has made, not only introduced but made, certain words like ‘quarantine’, ‘social distancing’, ‘mask’, ‘immunity’, etc., popular.

The dictionaries that the children of today use are so very different from the dictionaries of my times. I am not surprised, as I went to school in the pre-digital era, that is, the 1970s. While many of us have kept up with new vocabulary, there are times when I am surprised with a new word and new ‘lingo! I also tend to struggle to find words that I was used to a couple of decades ago.

Also, when we were in school in the 1970s, dictionaries and encyclopedias were highly respected and cherished books: expensive, and generally available only in school libraries. Later, it became less expensive when they started to become available in cheaper paper and reduced size (remember pocket dictionaries). For those of us who cherish the times when we could hold the big Oxford English Dictionary in our Hands, it is all online today. Britannica World Encyclopedia that was available in 12 volumes has pretty much vanished today, because anyhow everything is available online, and it has become ubiquitous because we can access all these on your smartphone.

Video content has also been a game changer with a lot of valuable infotainment and educational content also available on platforms like YouTube. You can now, virtually, visit any place you have always wanted to. Nothing like being there in the real world to take in the vibes, the ambiance, the ‘touch & feel’, and the wealth of learning that happens by traveling. The video lectures by interesting personalities, and the graphic visualisations of certain concepts in science and math are invaluable.

I personally still feel nostalgic about holding a dictionary in my hand, or an Encyclopedia volume in my hand, and browsing through it.

I read a lot on LinkedIn and other digital and online media formats; I also write on LinkedIn. But, it is ironic that I still prefer, and am keen, to get my hands on a printed and well bound dictionary or an encyclopedia.


About the author

D Sudhanva is the founder and CEO at Excelsoft Technologies, a globally renowned eLearning Solutions Company. With a focus on transforming education across the world, Sudhanva has steered Excelsoft to be a thought leader in Education Technology with robust products delivering innovative solutions.