Counting Down to a New Dictionary
Originally published on my personal blog on the 12th of October 2013, and misquoted in the Daily Mail two days later.
Countdown was the first programme broadcast when Channel 4 launched in November 1982. Almost 31 years later, it remains a staple of the channel's afternoon line-up.
Its longevity is probably owed to an evolutionary and not revolutionary approach. Rather than reinventing the wheel whenever the show has gone through a dry spell (see the final series of The Krypton Factor, amongst countless other televisual examples), it has retained the strength of its core format and modernised very gently. Across three decades there have been changes to the set, the title sequence, the music, and the haircuts. But most things have stayed the same: the letters, numbers and conundrum rounds; the 30 second clock; and the inscrutable dictionary.
However, things are about to change.
In a post on the c4countdown forum this preceding Wednesday, the Countdown production team announced the following:
For all shows being transmitted from 2014 onwards, we will be using the Oxford Dictionary Online… as our official word reference. This is a free-to-use website.
The Oxford Dictionary Online is updated every quarter, to incorporate new words and language trends. We've moved in this direction because the printed dictionary from Oxford is only updated every 4 or 5 years or so, and at present there are no plans for another update. To remove the risk of us disallowing common words which are not in the Oxford Dictionary of English printed edition… we've decided to go electronic for all adjudications from Series 70 onwards.
This means from next year Dictionary Corner will no longer be using a paper-based dictionary, with resident lexicographer Susie Dent instead checking the validity of contestants' offerings via a laptop. The Countdown team also confirmed this is the end of the road for the ‘pencam’ used to highlight words in the dictionary. But it is undoubtedly a good decision, ensuring contemporary neologisms are rightly permitted on the show. Countdown Series 65 champion Graeme Cole has researched new words which will become valid in 2014, thanks to the move to a regularly renewed digital dictionary. These include BITCOIN, EMOJI, PHABLET, SELFIE, SRSLY (yes, seriously) and – inevitably – TWERK.
As a lover not only of language, but of the evolution of language, I am delighted with this decision. OK, whilst many of these words will not stand the test of time, that doesn't mean they aren't important today. After all, when asking someone if they fancy a trip to the cinema we don't propose, “Shall we go to see a talkie?”, but that doesn't render the word invalid.
I look forward to seeing the introduction of the Oxford Dictionary Online when it reaches our screens in January.