Ransomware’ Joins the Hallowed Pages of the OED

We all know that the last year has been just the bees-knees for ransomware operators; it’s just the tops, really, between the world-dominating success of WannaCry and NotPetya, the pioneering of ransomware-as-a-service offerings and the development of truly horrific strains of the stuff, like BrickerBot (tagline: The permanent ransomware!).

So bad actors already have much to celebrate as they count the Bitcoin in their coffers, but there’s yet another feather in the cap for these jerks: The word ‘ransomware’ has been codified into the latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

Yep, those behind that venerable tome have deemed ransomware to be a big enough deal to give it its own dictionary entry. The OED is not just the end authority on what’s a word and what isn’t (and, ergo, what Microsoft Office should and should not be adding a red line underneath). The OED is an important cultural barometer.

The powers that be monitor how English usage changes over time, ever-ready to either accept a neologism or ignore it. Our language is among the most elastic in the world, allowing for an immense amount of creativity in word construction, and the result is that someone needs to police that business, because everyone, especially in this age of social media, tends to be out there making up new words willy-nilly (‘nothingburger’, I’m looking at you).

Every year the OED decides what has crossed the chasm from cute meme, convenient abbreviation or fun witticism to the real deal. Some words may have initial viral success but ultimately are considered limited when it comes to permeating the culture at large – others signify cultural movements, or have been so widely adopted so as to be pervasive and impossible to ignore (that happened with the term ‘Google’ used as a verb back in 2006). In ransomware’s case, it’s just such a phenomenon that the OED can’t rightly ignore it.

Ransomware joins other indicators of culture – pointing to conversations that are happening in the culture at large. These include ‘mansplaining’, ‘tomgirl’ (a feminist replacement for the conventional ‘tomboy’) and even ‘snowflake’, used to describe someone who is “overly sensitive or as feeling entitled to special treatment or consideration.”

Also included are a few things that are decidedly regional, and not too applicable to we native English speakers outside of the UK. These include initialisms used on the UK online parenting forum Mumsnet, such as ‘TTC’ (trying to conceive), ‘BFN/BFP’ (big fat negative/big fat positive related to the results of a pregnancy test) and ‘CIO’ (cry it out). On that one, OED senior editor Fi Mooring told the BBC that the words will resonate “even with [native English speakers] who are not parents.” Could that be true?

Another regional add is ‘Geg’, which is Liverpudlian slang for intruding or joining in uninvited.

There’s also ‘masstige’, a snarky combination of the words ‘masses’ and ‘prestige’, referring to cheap products that are marketed as luxury items; and the absolutely delightful ‘hazzle’, which apparently means “to dry in open air” (who knew? Apparently enough people do).

In any event, the dictionary has 829,000 words and counting, and is updated on a quarterly basis (the next update is due in April 2018). What could be next? I’m not sure how much cyber-lingo is already included, but the way things are going, ransomware is unlikely to be the last from our arena to make it in.