Word coinage at your fingertips

In Becoming ruminative in education on August 31, 2011 at 1:47 AM


Interestingly, today I learned a word from my former student whom I taught a number of years ago while I was studying in a master program in Taiwan. The word is “pocket-call”, which refers to accidentally calling someone unknowingly while the cell phone is in the purse or a manbag. In tracing the source of this word, my former student gave me this link to Urban Dictionary.


      The words on Urban Dictionary are so urban and unfamiliar to me to a point that I asked myself, have I become so unurban, so no chic and apparently out of date? The answer loomed a few minutes later after I browsed through the words appeared on this web dictionary–YES, I am! Even though these words are novel, unauthentic in the sense that they are being used randomly yet with a clear intent, they warrant educators’ attention because this is how our new generation approaches language use and learning–through actual usage in daily life circumstances. And the great thing is, they even actively attempt to coin new words and define how they could be used in their worldly situations! News for classroom teachers–your students may have become wordsmiths via this venue!

Many of us know that the language used for academic purposes is different than that for casual conditions. I wish o emphasize the point that these two language forms are not at all mutually exclusive. What is important is to understand how these two levels of language can be used in a situationally fitting fashion. As international students, we have to develop this ambiguity tolerance and understand that language learning comes not only from reading newspapers or journal articles but from less orthodoxical sources such a social networking sites or sites such as Urban Dictionary. Trust me, you don’t want to talk to a person on the street with an academic overtone. The next step, for language educators, is to contemplate the merit and peril of incorporating such “urban words” into instruction and this depends on the purpose of the course being delivered, instructor’s teaching style and students learning style. It is not easy but it is a challenge faced by educators worldwide.

What is worth mentioning about this Urban Dictionary site is that it incorporates the famous power of the “like” prevalent on facebook. Instead, Urban Dictionary uses user-generated UPs and DOWNs to indicate how Urban Dicionary users like or dislike a word entry created by someone else. This idea is brilliant because you will find out how many others liked or resonated with your word coinage or otherwise. Another plus/learning opportunity/impetus for coining your word created by Urban Dictionary!


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