For generations, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has been the de facto standard of the English language. Several years ago, The Professor and the Madman, a bestselling book by Simon Winchester, chronicled the creation story of this dictionary and the extraordinary global effort that went into its compilation. Published well before Wikipedia, this book certainly qualifies as the world's first truly crowdsourced collection of human knowledge.
While the original Oxford English Dictionary is more of a historical catalog of the English language, the more modern (but similarly titled) Oxford Dictionary, with some small ceremony and a press release, adds a handful of new words to reflect the zeitgeist of the time and keep itself up to date. The words chosen for the book tell a profound story of our cultural evolution, but it's an update many of us might miss amid the bustle of our daily schedules.
And that's unfortunate, because looking closely at the words that make it into the update every year can offer some valuable clues about where our collective culture is headed—and may even help affect your marketing strategy.
Words To The Wise
As you start to make business plans for next year, here are six words added this past year that you might want to ponder, along with some ideas as to why each word could be important to your business success:
1. digital detox, n.: a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world.
As we all spend more time with our devices, the importance of having time away from them will become more precious. You're likely to hear advice from many people about how to create some type of "mobile experience" for your customers to cater to their deep connections with their devices, but one thing to consider may be how you can cater to these detox moments instead. Is your business one that's focused on relaxation or a non-mobile experience? Remember that your customers are already seeking those moments away from their devices ... and you can help them to enjoy them.
2. babymoon, n. (informal): a relaxing or romantic holiday taken by parents-to-be before their baby is born; a period of time following the birth of a baby during which the new parents can focus on establishing a bond with their child.
Another vacation-oriented word, this one speaks directly to the very specific moment in people's lives when they're about to have a baby. As any parent (and business owner in the family space) knows, first-time parents are among the biggest spenders of any demographic group when it comes to things they don't really need. The spending evens out after a second child comes along, but the majority of "babymooners" are likely embarking on their first journey into parenthood. That offers plenty of opportunities for smart businesses to cater to this special moment and find ways to pamper the soon-to-be parents, or to offer them something that will be valuable in those first few months of parenthood. Travel organizers already focus on promotions for honeymoons ... and now babymoons can offer a way for many other smart businesses not in the travel space to get involved.
3. TL;DR, abbrev., "too long didn’t read": used as a dismissive response to a lengthy online post, or to introduce a summary of a lengthy post.
You may lament the changing media habits of people today and how they never seem to have as much time to read as they used to. The fact is, reading isn't disappearing—it's just getting harder to capture information. The "captive audience" doesn't exist anymore (unless perhaps you're stuck on a long haul flight). So the lesson in this quick abbreviation is a simple one: Keep your messages short, and remember that it takes a lot to capture your customers' attention, even for a brief moment.
4. MOOC, n., "massive open online course": a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people.
Online education is leveling the playing field and changing the way that many people get their education. The education business is seeing this disruption and finding new ways to deal with the challenge. The opportunity for you, though, is to build your skills now with cutting-edge education from some of the leading minds in their fields completely for free online. We all have things that we're naturally good at and things that we avoid because we lack the skills to do them. With the vast availability of great education online now, consider investing time in your own continuing education and using the resources that are increasingly available for anyone to benefit from.
5. unlike, v.: to withdraw one’s liking or approval of (a web page or posting on a social media website that one has previously liked).
For years online and now in social media, it seemed like all anyone talked about was getting people to click that "Like" or "Follow" button. Yet today people are getting savvier about who's using those connections to spam them, and they're using the "unlike" feature more and more. As more startups and tools come online to help people unlike multiple accounts quickly, it will be more important than ever to treat your social platforms with respect and not idly blast messages to those online. The future isn't just about building an audience. It's going to be about keeping the audience you've built as well.
6. FOMO, n., "fear of missing out": anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.
This is probably my favorite ODO addition of the year, because it also transcends the social media world and actually describes an emotional phenomena that many of us have likely experienced at some time. Tapping the emotional desire everyone has not to be left out can certainly be used in evil ways by marketers. Yet understanding how deeply rooted this fear is can actually help you create a sense of urgency around the things you're sharing to engage more people and promote your business.
If you're interested in seeing the full list of words added to the dictionary this year, check out the Oxford Dictionary team blog.
Rohit Bhargava is the bestselling author of four marketing books and founder of the Influential Marketing Group. He is also a proud English major, lover of words and occasional creator of them for fun and (sometimes) function. His favorite creation that hasn't yet made it into the ODO is "slogo" (a brand slogan combined with logo).
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CORRECTION: This article originally cited ODO entries as coming from the OED. They are actually two different dictionaries.