"Tebowing" Is Now An Official English Word, Except It's Probably Not

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When a person gets very famous, lots of companies want to put themselves in the news alongside that person. Which is why you're seeing a lot of Tim Tebow in unlikely sources these days. Today's entry: something called the Global Language Monitor says that "Tebowing" is now an accepted English word. Defined as "the act of taking a knee in prayer during an athletic contest," Tebowing now takes its place alongside other the perfectly cromulent words in the English language, if a provocative press release is to believed.

As Global Language Monitor hoped, the press is running with it. Like USA Today, who loves a simplistic headline and calls this honor "practically the equivalent of gaining acceptance to Webster's Dictionary." It's not, it's really not, not even the Unabridged, and that has all kinds of bullshit words.

Do you know what Tebowing is? You probably do, because you're part of a very specific subset of the Anglosphere that watches American football and uses Tumblr. This doesn't make it a word (and there's no official process for making a word official anyway.) And just because the term has been used for five or so weeks now, that doesn't mean it's going to be officially welcomed by actual professional lexicographers who have nothing to gain by putting "Tebow" in a headline. Gatekeepers of language don't work that way:

Graeme Diamond, principal editor of the New Words group at the Oxford English Dictionary, once said:

"People would be wrong if they thought of us typically reading something in the paper one day and sticking it into the dictionary the next. We want to resist putting ephemera in, because the OED never takes anything out.


There are plenty of reasons to question Tebowing's status as an "official" word. There's been very little formal research on slang, there's no agreement on when slang becomes word, and it wouldn't even really be "Tebowing" anyway, would it? It would be the verb form. This isn't a gerund, and it's not Tebow Part IV: The Tebowing.

So consider the source. Global Language Monitor does nothing but find another way to put the latest SEO bait headlines in a press release. Like how they hopped on the Michael Jackson death bandwagon. Or release their arbitrary college rankings two weeks before US News's. Or name buzzworthy "words of the year," like recent winners occupy, Twitter, hybrid, and misunderestimate. Or most spectacularly, an attempt to count all the words in the English language. It's a scam at worst and quixotic at best, but hey, if we have "quixotic" maybe there's hope for a Tebownian eponym.


So when this company sends out a press release says Tebowing is a word, it gets trumpeted because people are eager to consume the cult of Tebow, and they don't really understand how language works. That's why there's a human being who actually askd if a word becomes official when it's added to UrbanDictionary.com. If so, say hello to A.J. Daulerio's own "smoky tornado."

[Photo from Westword]