Dictionaries capture usage

The petition to exclude the term "Chinese helicopter" from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) on the grounds that it is derogatory is misplaced ("Petition to drop derogatory Singlish term from OED"; May 28, and "Derogatory Singlish term part of our history" by Mr Adam Reutens-Tan; June 1).

A good dictionary must necessarily describe how a language is being used. This is why the OED lists even obscene and vile words. But it serves its users by indicating that a particular word is vulgar or offensive.

Publishers of dictionaries should tell it like it is, and not start censoring on the grounds of acceptability.

The main criterion for whether a word or term should be included in a dictionary should be the extent of its usage.

On this point, I am personally surprised at the inclusion of "Chinese helicopter", a term I have not heard for many years, and which has left many millennials scratching their heads.

Given the feedback offered by many Singaporeans, I suppose the OED would indicate that the use of "Chinese helicopter" is not current.

As an example, it notes that the use of the word "gay" to mean "happy" is dated.

A language is a living thing, evolving as its users choose to use it. Otherwise, Shakespeare will not be the challenge it is to some students.

The OED is a reputable publication precisely because it has carefully recorded the use of English over time, tracking how the uses, meanings and pronunciations of words have changed. It should continue to do so without fear or favour.

Ivan Tan Hua Hin