OUP lexicographers have been monitoring more than 1.5 million random tweets Since January 2009 and have noticed any number of interesting facts about the impact of Twitter on language usage. For example the 500 words most frequently used words on Twitter are significantly different from the top 500 words in general English text. At the very top, there are many of the usual suspects: “the”, “to”, “as”, “and”, “in”… though “I” is right up at number 2, whereas for general text it is only at number 10. No doubt this reflects on the intrinsically solipsistic nature of Twitter.
I find that last bit amusing–”intrinsically solipsistic”. I’m not sure that they entirely understand Twitter; in my experience, it doesn’t isolate at all, but rather connects people on a very deep level. True, much of it is banal, but you also get a real sense of the person behind each tweet that you just don’t get through any other medium.
Anyway, I think it makes perfect sense for the OED to be monitoring social media. After all, throughout its history the OED has used quotes and examples from books, magazines, newspapers, and more recently Usenet and the Web, to illustrate how language is used. Web 2.0 allows much the same kind of direct view of real-world usage–but with the added convenience of indexing, search, and passive monitoring. And with most of the developed world communicating this way, of course they’re going to want to watch what people are doing. When the much-anticipated third edition is finally published in full, it should provide an amazing look at how the language has been altered by these communication tools.
That said, though, it still feels weird to see someone at the OED write “that is how we roll”.