“That profile looks like a catfish.” What does that mean? Does that sentence translate correctly? The answer is yes it does! There are more than 150 new words and definitions that have been introduced into Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary for 2014. The most recent edition of Public Relations Tactics discusses the heavy influence technology has had on our vocabulary and even more so on the way we communicate with each other. It is obvious our language is changing through the use of technology and social media. Let’s look at a few trending words as an example. Catfish, when referred to via social media, is “a person who sets up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes.” You might remember Notre Dame’s football player Manti Te’o, and the now-known-to-be-fabricated story of his girlfriend who passed away from leukemia? That is a perfect example of a catfish. Manti’s “girlfriend” who passed away from cancer, never existed at all but was actually an old high school friend of someone Manti Te’o had never met.
These new words incorporated into Webster’s Dictionary might still seem a little unfamiliar to some of us, but we probably have at least seen them, or know what their definitions mean through social media. Tweep, selfie, and hashtag are good examples. A tweep is “a person who uses the Twitter online message service to send and receive tweets.” A selfie is “an image of oneself taken by oneself using a digital camera especially for posting on social networks.” And a hashtag refers to “a word or phrase preceded by the symbol # that classifies or categorizes the accompanying text (such as a tweet).” Anyone who has a Twitter, Facebook or Instagram account is probably accustomed to these three terms because they’re what we use to communicate when we are posting online. What is interesting to note is that technology has not only changed how we post on our individual social media profiles, but it has also changed the way we talk about and promote business. Words like “big data,” “crowdfunding,” and “gamification,” show that there are new routes to take when promoting business via Internet.
In addition to personal profiles and promoting business, we also use new words to describe trends and movements taking place in our society. A freegan, for example, is “an activist who scavenges for free food (as in waste receptacles at stores and restaurants) as a means of reducing consumption of resources.” I remember this effort starting to take place a few years ago; a freegan movement had occurred near my neighborhood and stories of people dumpster diving for thrown-out food was buzzing around everywhere. Freegans, although often mistaken for homeless or jobless individuals, are actually participating in the movement to protest against a culture they perceive to waste a lot of food while people in other countries are starving. Another example is fracking, which describes “the injection of fluid into shale beds at high pressure in order to free up petroleum resources.” Lastly, yooper, which is a fun word referring to “a native or resident of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan —used as a nickname.” The reality here is that our civilization is shifting, and with it our language, society, businesses, livelihood and our communication are ever-changing as well. So the next time you hear, “that person’s profile looks like a catfish,” you will know it really means, “That profile looks like a person who is trying to trick me into thinking they are someone they are not!”