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CNN Today

Surfing the Dictionary for Words That Are Changing the Way We Speak

Aired September 14, 2000 - 2:19 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Done any dictionary surfing lately? Lots of new stuff there. A few years ago, 411 used to be just the numbers you dial to get a phone listing. Now it is slang for getting information from any source.

CNN's Garrick Utley now defining some of the other words that are changing the way we speak.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARRICK UTLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What word would you choose to describe this? an argument? a rhubarb? or in today's language, simply, in your face, defined as a "defiant, aggressive manner."

And how would we describe much of the language we hear today on television and radio, such as "The Jerry Springer Show"? "disparaging, insulting, vulgar"? Well, that's a definition of a newer, richer word, "trash talk," which has now made it into the dictionary, into the new "American Heritage Dictionary."

(on camera): Does that mean that trash talk is now part of our American heritage? Dictionaries offer more than correct spelling and the roots of words. They show us how our lives are changing through the words and expressions that we use.

For example, there is "reality check," "an assessment to determine if one's circumstances or expectations conform to reality."

(voice-over): The new, booming economy has also changed our language. Workers are not fired any more, they are downsized or reengineered right out of the company. Of course, we have been saying that for years, but now the dictionary accepts it as proper language, as it has quickly accepted "dot.com" and "domain name," as part of our evolving cyberlanguage.

Sometimes old words take on new meaning. To surf used to mean this; then it meant to do this through the sea of cable channels; and now through the flood of Web sites on the Internet.

(on camera): As these words and meanings fight their way into the dictionary, they tell us how attitudes are changing. New technology, for example, can lead us to seek broader knowledge rather than deeper knowledge. Surfing, after all, means staying on the surface.

(voice-over): In the middle of a presidential campaign, we hear how politics and television have created their own language. "Talking head" has been in dictionaries since 1968, "political spin" since 1984. And now a new entry in this year's "American Heritage Dictionary" defines those talking heads offering their pundits' spin. The word is "bloviate," as in he bloviates, she bloviates, they bloviate; "to discourse at length," which means it is time to stop bloviating.

Garrick Utley, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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