Student guest post: A new definition for love in the OED

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 11th of those posts. Alice Miller is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill and is finishing her studies in journalism and art history. She is soaking up all aspects of her final spring in Chapel Hill including, but not limited to, frozen yogurt, friends and sunny afternoons in the Quad.

At the end of March, the Oxford English Dictionary released the newest additions and revisions to its 600,000-word database. Yet, not all of the new changes fit the traditional definition of “word” itself.

Some chat and text originated terms, such as LOL, OMG and FYI have infiltrated the pages, but those stand-ins for longer catch phrases do not compare with the most controversial addition.


Still looking for the word of which I am speaking? You didn’t miss it. The heart icon you probably skimmed over has officially been added to the OED. Often created by a less-than sign and number 3 (<3), the heart icon is a sign of chat culture transforming the English language as we know it.

With not much faith in American English traditions, ♥ was incorporated into the OED. What worries me most about this new addition is that it could foreshadow a trend toward icons representing words. While LOL is a stand-in for “laugh out loud,” everyone knows it, or can look it up and find its clear definition. But with ♥, what does it really mean? Love? Heart? Less than 3?

In 1993, the French Academy, the organization in France assigned to protect the authenticity and integrity of the French language, banned the usage of the word “email.” Rather than incorporating the American term into the French language like a few other phrases have been, they banned it all together and came up with a French replacement of “courriel.”

This example is one of the many times the French Academy has fought to keep American lingo from becoming a part of French language.

While the majority of French citizens still use “email,” I applaud the academy’s attempt to preserve the French language. I think this pride of language could be a trend we look up to the French for an example.

It may be faster to insert on small phone keyboards and help stay in a 140-character limit on Twitter, but I think it is troubling to think that ♥ is considered a word. We have 26 letters in the alphabet, with some that deserve some more usage, so let’s stick to letters and leave the icons out of the dictionary.



  1. Congratulations on your upcoming graduation! This world needs more good journalists.

    A couple points:

    Dictionaries (including the OED) have long included icons. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, of course, includes a compendium of scientific and mathematical symbols, and dictionaries as early as the 18th century have used wood cuts to illustrate meanings. Judging by those dates, you might even say it’s an American English tradition to include them, especially since the OED is British.

    There’s an argument to made for the French Academy’s prescriptivism, to be sure. But the OED isn’t making it, and it never has. According to its editor, John Simpson, the dictionary includes “many slang, informal, technical, and other words which [some] people might not consider to be ‘proper’” because its goal is to describe language as it is currently being used.

    If this is the case, judging by the last decade’s preponderance of I ♥ phrases, the OED has been remiss not to include it until now. Your very question itself (“But with ♥, what does it really mean? Love? Heart? Less than 3?”) argues for the inclusion of the symbol.

    And while the French Academy can ban whatever it sees fit, that doesn’t prevent French speakers from using language as they see fit—incorporating words from other languages and creating neologisms. It only creates a need for something to describe those new words—something like, perhaps, the OED.

  2. I ❤ the Oxford English Dictionary! Also, I love it and am very fond of it.

    As the JSchool librarian, I also love that we have free-to-us online access to the OED via the UNC Libraries and the state of North Carolina at (if you're on campus, you can go right to and have full access — but that's because we've paid for it). If you're off-campus and you go to the link above, you'll be prompted for your ONYEN & password — and then will still have full access.

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