It has been detected a thousand new English words or meanings every three months. About 25 per cent of them may prove sufficiently widespread and lasting to enter the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) provided they have been used for at least five years before acceptance. Thus, 'grunge' and 'reality television' dates back to 1973 and 1978, respectively; and a couple of the most familiar of this year's additions are 'mockney' (an imitation of cockney accent) and 'ladette'.

Unlike the OED, the Collins and Chambers dictionaries accept words in use for a very short time. 'Wazzup?' (What's up?), for example, has won a place in this year's ones. Major events can catapult a new word into common usage. The Gulf War brought 'friendly fire', and Bosnia gave 'ethnic cleansing' an immediate currency.

Technology, however, is the source of most new words and meanings flooding the language. Such is the case of 'spam', 'mouse potatoes' and 'couch potatoes'. The often stressful styles of life that accompany technological change are also reflected in a host of neologisms like 'road rage', 'air rage', 'trolley rage' and 'desk rage' (for frustrated road-users, anger in planes, anger in supermarket and anger at work, respectively).

Diversity is an additional source for a constantly growing list of acronyms: 'bap' (black American princess) enjoys shopping just as much as the 'jap' (Jewish American princess). Chambers predict that 'gayby' (a baby from a gay couple) will enter its dictionary soon.

Lexicographers used to be wary of anything that was colloquial, but now slang is accepted as an integral part of normal usage. Penguin even commissioned a survey of the language used by schoolchildren for the latest edition of its Compact Dictionary. The growing influence of black English was prominent with the use of words like 'wicked' and 'mad' as terms of approval. It is difficult to decide at which stage an item of slang becomes sufficiently established and widespread to enter the dictionary. This is, however, a minor challenge compared to the most recent wave of abbreviations and letterhomophones of text messages:

HAND (have a nice day)
RU OK (are you okay?)
WAN2TLK (want to talk?)
CU L8R (see you later)
XOXOX (hugs and kisses)
MYOB (mind your own bussiness)
M8S4EVA (mates for ever)
NE1 (anyone)
QT (cutie)
OIC (oh, I see)

Chambers Dictionary staff says it is too early to decide whether the above terms are dialect or English. Perhaps the crucial test for these lexicons to officially enter the language is utility. 'Bushism' looked sure of a place in next year's dictionaries. Now the politician is national figurehead and its future is less certain. 'Ground zero', on the other hand, has unexpectedly taken on new currency.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.