From confirmation bias to owo: discover the latest words added to the Collins Dictionary

The online version of the Collins Dictionary has just been updated again, with another batch of words being allowed in for the first time. These new words are a rather mixed bag, and they show the dictionary in both its serious and light-hearted moods.

On the one hand, you can see the dictionary acting like an encyclopedia in charting significant intellectual concepts. These include a couple of terms used in historical assessments of the twentieth century: the Harlem Renaissance refers to the flourishing of literature, music, and religion in New York’s African-American community between the two world wars, while the Holodomor was a famine that killed millions of people in the Ukraine in the 1930s. For those more interested in science than history, there is confirmation bias, which is the tendency of researchers to interpret information in a way that supports their existing beliefs – which means that people are more likely to see what they are looking for than to see what is actually there.

On the other hand, this sort of academic information is balanced by the inclusion of terms that have become widespread on social media as part of the jokey banter of online chat. For example, the word giggity (borrowed from the catchphrase of the sex-crazed Glenn Quagmire in the American cartoon Family Guy) is used online to express amusement or relish, often at a joke you have just made. Also making it into the dictionary this month is owo. This expression of surprise started off as one of those emoticons that people used (before the advent of emojis) to express feelings in text messages, with the two circles being meant to show wide-eyed astonishment at what has just been written. However, it is increasingly regarded as a word rather than a simple collection of shapes, and is now also used in verbal communication.

Of course, there is a huge gulf between this sort of playful invention and the serious discourse of historians and scientists, but it is surely one of the great joys of a dictionary that these two extremes of language can be found there rubbing shoulders with each other.

Written by Ian Brookes, writer and editor.

All opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of Collins, or its parent company, HarperCollins.

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