One of the challenges of being a self-appointed chronicler of words is that language is dynamic. Every day, new words are added to the global lexicon, some of which fizzle out and become obsolete before ever really becoming “solete,” whereas others end up as standards, eventually making the hallowed pages of the OED.
Top of my current list of neologisms is sexting. It refers to the act of sending sexually explicit material via a phone. This can be simple text of a graphic nature or a picture of a much more explicit nature. Sexting is high profile at the moment because it involves three elements that are irresistible in the media: sex, death, and teenagers.
In July 2008, Cincinnatti high schooler Jessie Logan was found dead in her bedroom after hanging herself following the sexting of nude pictures of her that she’d sent to her ex-boyfriend. The ease with which images can be shared via phones and the Internet makes this sort of tragedy likely to re-occur.
The word itself clearly derives from the phonetically similar, texting, the act of sending text messages. Texting itsef is also a new word, or at least a new use of an old one. The noun, text, switched to becoming a verb – to text – fairly quickly after the ability to send text messages appeared. This metamorphosis is a regular way of creating verbs – painful as it may sometimes sound. And adding the -ing ending creates what used to be called a gerund or verbal noun.
What also happened with texting is that it expanded its meaning to include non-text items. A request to “text me that picture” may sound odd but makes perfect sense if “to text” means “to send data via a cellphone. So, to send sexy pictures or sexy messages almost begged to be described as sexting.
Being curious about whether sexting was expanding its coverage of the lexisphere (yes, I have made that one up) I googled (another noun-to-verb example) sexted (-ed participle), sexts (both s-form of the verb and maybe plural), sext (noun/verb?). Google results show you how many hits a word gets so its a rough guide to a word’s frequency.
Sexted = 10,500
Sexts = 10,200
Sext = 1,120,000
Whoa Nelly! Over a million for sext? Ah, problem is that sext is the Sixth Hour of prayer in a cycle – midday prayer following terce and before vespers! The first reference to the word to describe a sex message by phone turns up as a link to the Urban Dictionary – a wonderful source for all things slang and profane.
These scores in Google are quite low. For comparison, verisimilitude scores 629,000, much higher. So sexting is still pretty new and pretty fluid.
And remember, boys and girls; linguistics is fun, but sexting nude pics of yourself to a significant other is a dangerous thing to do. Maybe even stupid.