Language is culture and dictionaries have been relentless players in the culture wars, changing the definition of what a woman or what a recession is to keep pace with political correctness. But then there’s going even further to create an entire dictionary for a particular group.
That’s what the Oxford Dictionary is doing to keep pace with the growth in critical race theory and other political racial study trajectories in academia.
English has many words and expressions like “shout out,” she said, which began in Black communities, made their way around the country and then through the English-speaking world. The process has been happening over generations, linguists say, adding an untold number of contributions to the language, including hip, nitty gritty, cool and woke.
Now, a new dictionary — the Oxford Dictionary of African American English — will attempt to codify the contributions and capture the rich relationship Black Americans have with the English language.
There’s plenty of academic streams already charting word and phrase origins. None of that requires a dictionary.
American English is made up of many different slang words from different parts of the culture and around the world. We get “Okay” from India. The British got “bint” from Egypt. Oxford is not, presumably, going to make a dictionary charting the Egyptian contribution to British English.
A slang dictionary is particularly unnecessary because the virtue of slang is self-defining, no one needs to look it up. It’s also permeable and often has a short shelf-life making a dictionary particularly pointless. Are people still going to be using “shout out” 10 years from now? Anecdotally I haven’t heard it used in a while even now.
It’s a phrase that doesn’t remotely justify the existence of a racial dictionary.
An Oxford Dictionary of African American English is pseudo-academic racialist nonsense. Especially because it’s hard to distinguish where older rural American South slang even came from, some of it might have come from black subgroups or white ones, mostly we have no real idea because tracking the language before the internet was very difficult, and it’s still tricky. You can bet that his latest racial separatist project though will err on the side of racial vanity not academic truth.
A project of Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research and Oxford University Press, the dictionary will not just collect spellings and definitions. It will also create a historical record and serve as a tribute to the people behind the words, said Henry Louis Gates Jr., the project’s editor in chief and the Hutchins Center’s director.
Of course, it had to be Obama’s second favorite Harvard academic.
“Just the way Louis Armstrong took the trumpet and turned it inside out from the way people played European classical music,” said Gates, Black people took English and “reinvented it, to make it reflect their sensibilities and to make it mirror their cultural selves.”
Is there any immigrant or cultural group that didn’t do that? Gates states this like it’s a major revelation, when it’s a prosaic reality of cultural interfaces. It’s also why cultural appropriation is natural, but somehow here appropriation becomes approbation, when the rest of the time, it’s a cultural crime.
“Words that we take for granted today, such as ‘cool’ and ‘crib,’ ‘hokum’ and ‘diss,’ ‘hip’ and ‘hep,’ ‘bad,’ meaning ‘good,’ and ‘dig,’ meaning ‘to understand ’— these are just a tiny fraction of the words that have come into American English from African American speakers,” Henry Louis Gates Jr. said,
“Bad” and “dig” are long since outdated and no longer in use. Dig, in particular, is about as old as Gates. Never mind “hep” and “hip” has long since become a term of contempt.
Much like Gates’ dictionary will be.