Thursday, July 3, 2014

Trolls, Trust and the Worst Online Dictionary

If you have been using the internet at least sparingly for the past few years, then you probably know what a troll is.

Well--yeah, there's always those other trolls too.  You know, good old bridge trolls...
Or cave trolls...
Or heaven forbid, those other trolls we try to forget....
Why are they naked.

But anyway, I'm talking about more like this kind:
That's right, the internet troll.
As is usual with new words in English, this word can also be a verb, so that you can say someone is trolling, or that you got trolled (yep, it can be transitive too!).
So how common is this new sense?
Well, if you search for "troll" in Google, it has a chart that shows its usage over time, which looks like this:
So it's obviously being used more frequently nowadays.  Of course, this doesn't tell us which type of "troll".  So if we head over to GloWbE, a 1.9 billion word corpus of internet texts, we can look for the most common words that appear next to "troll" on the internet.  The top 10 are:
1. internet
2. troll
3. concern
4. patent
5. feed
6. obvious
7. anonymous
8. posts
9. calling
10. feeding

So basically, when people are talking about "trolls" on the internet, they're talking about "a person who makes a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting" (from Google).

So what's my point?  Well, any respectable online dictionary SHOULD be able to give a definition for a sense of a word that is so widespread, right?  As new words come into use, online dictionaries, not burdened by publishing and distribution, can add entries whenever they feel like it.
In fact, according to Wikipedia, this slang use of "troll" has been around since at least 1992.  That's more than TWENTY years ago.  And even if it were more recent, it's certainly widespread now.

So you can understand my confusion, for lack of a better word, when I stroll onto Merriam-Webster's online dictionary looking up the word (for work-related purposes, mind you), and I can't find the definition of an internet troll anywhere on the page.
WUT.  Seriously?  It's first definition is "to fish with a hook and line that you pull through the water".  Ok.  Is that what you thought of when you read the word "troll"?  (If you did, then...go away)

I feel like Merriam-Webster tries to be all hip and progressive, even advocating the use of the spelling "alright" in light of modern trends, but it invariably comes across as unhelpful and outdated with no sense of good priority.  Plus, it has a horrible habit of defining a word by using another form of that word.  And I hate its search engine.

I won't even give you a link to the site because I don't want you to go there.  Please use something else.  And remember kids, while dictionaries can be useful, they're ultimately written by people, not the language gods.  So sometimes you have to trust your own judgment.  Trust me.


Truuust in m--okay, I'm done.