Is that a Word?
I recently ran across an article in which someone wrote something like the following:
For all you Googlers (is that a word?), there’s an easy way to find the restaurant’s website.
“Is that a word?”—this is a common question. It’s not a question expecting an answer, I think, so much as it is a rhetorical device indicating to the reader that the writer doesn’t remember hearing others use that particular set of syllables in that way!
But let me take a stab at answering anyway. “Googler” is a word. “Googler” is a transparent compound made of two readily recognizable parts, a noun and an affix. “Google” + “-er” = someone who Googles. I’m not sure on what consistent linguistic basis someone could deny that “word” status. More basically, if you just used a certain locution and you have a reasonable expectation that others will understand it, it’s a word. What else is a word but that?
Does presence in a dictionary make something a word? Well, aren’t there a great number of words in the dictionary that you and your friends don’t know and never use? What makes them words more than “Googler”? Did “blog” not count as a word till the first dictionary came out that included it?
Or does utterance by the literati make something a word? Well, if they all successfully avoided “ain’t” for a generation (I doubt they could), would that finally revoke its much-challenged membership in the “word” club? I don’t think so. Who says that only educated people get to determine what counts as a word? If a manual laborer with an 8th grade education uses a certain set of syllables (like “ain’t” or even “git ‘r’ dun”) all the time, and if others understand him perfectly, who are we to say he’s momentarily dropping out of English and speaking something else?
In my experience, the charge, “That’s not a word!” is more often a way of flaunting one’s intellectual superiority over someone else. Ironically, however, it’s usually (in my experience) based on ignorance of the way words actually work.
If I know my John McWhorter, he’d say that “word” and “language” each exist on a continuum. What’s the line separating a dialect of Russian from a wholly separate language? There is none. We make our best determination based on a number of sometimes arbitrary factors—like what the speakers themselves think of their language. And what’s the line separating a “word” from a malapropism or a collection of nonsense syllables? There’s no line. There’s a spectrum.
If you say something and people understand you, you used words.