When our dictionaries gave up the ghost

Being something of a logophile, I subscribe to mailing lists from several dictionaries and even follow them on social media. (Yes, yes… make your nerd jokes now.) While these habits are often useful for learning new words, this also provides the opportunity to keep tabs on some of the alarming trends that have been showing up in terms of how the English language is evolving in the modern era. Another example of the decline of our language popped up on Twitter yesterday from Dictionary.com. Rather than dragging this out, let’s just let them speak for themselves.

New word alert!

“finna,” a phonetic spelling representing the African American Vernacular English variant of “fixing to,” is one of the 600 words we just added to http://Dictionary.com.

Since we’re trashing the English language and delving into Twitter-Speak anyway, you’d be forgiven if your first response to this alert was “AYFKM?”

It turns out that dictionary.com isn’t the only source to make this poor choice. Oxford has added “finna” as a word. So has Merriam-Webster.

We need to find a way to slam the brakes on this runaway linguistic train because there are several things wrong with this, though the criticism should be immediately obvious. First of all, “finna” isn’t a word just because some woke warriors at the publishers of various dictionaries say it is. It’s also not properly a phonetic spelling of anything because that would imply that the original word(s) sound like “fin uh.” While we’re on the subject, the phrase “fixing to” has worked its way into our language somehow, but it’s a very poor replacement for “preparing to.”

Perhaps even more to the point, how did these wordsmiths arrive at the decision to define this misuse of the language as part of “African American Vernacular?” Are they implying that only Black people speak that poorly? I mean, since everyone is apparently invited to play this game these days, isn’t that kind of… racist?

Blatantly tossing out something with such clearly racial overtones is an odd choice when you look at their full announcement of 600 new words added to their dictionary. Their explanation of how they arrived at some of these selections is simply dripping with wokeness warrior goodness. Here’s an excerpt from the applicable section.

(Re)defining race, social justice, and identity

The increased awareness around minoritized groups has only grown since the justice movements of 2020 captured the attention of a broader public.

Our lexicography team continues to document the evolving language related to BIPOC experiences and has revised Indigenous and First Nation identity words, from Aleut to Yupik.

Our team has also capitalized the word Indigenous, as it refers to people, for all relevant entries in our site—another major update. Similar to capitalizing Black, capitalizing Indigenous shows due respect to the identity, culture, and history of Indigenous peoples around the world.

Beyond what’s listed there, dictionary.com has also removed the word “slave” from the dictionary. They’ve modified more than a dozen entries, replacing the word “with the adjective enslaved or referencing the institution of slavery itself.”

There’s nothing racist about the word slave. People of all races have been enslaved all across the history of humanity. The word simply refers to someone who is a victim of slavers. But I suppose even hearing the word might “trigger” someone (another misuse of the language that we could do without) so the Woke Patrol deemed it unacceptable in polite society.

I’ll get down off of my soapbox now, but this is all becoming a bit much to stomach. I have no intention of teaching my spell-checker to accept “finna” as a word.