Adding Words To The Dictionary Has Always Been A Slow Process. Then COVID-19 Hit

September 28th, 2020 by There’s been no shortage of criticism in recent week of everyone from business leaders to public officials to individual citizens, for not moving fast enough to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. But one industry whose stock-in-trade is to work slowly is moving with unprecedented speed: The dictionary. Not every new word that makes is way into our day-to-day conversations makes it into the dictionary — even online, where space is essentially unlimited. In fact, it’s actually pretty hard for a new word to get the nod. "We have a kind of reflex to wait," said Peter Sokolowski, editor at large for Springfield-based Merriam Webster. "[We want] to make sure that the word has staying power; that it’s going to be around for a long time." Typically, he said, when a new word emerges, researchers watch it — fastidiously citing its usage over time in publications. Phonetics experts study its pronunciation. Etymologists examine its history. Definitions are drafted, edited and refined. It’s a careful, deliberative, intentionally slow process. "Normally, it’s more like a conveyor belt that takes, on average, a number of years for a word to go from being noticed to being added to the dictionary," said Sokolowski. Even in our fast-moving, hyper-connected world, where technology creates new toys — and new terms — at a breakneck pace, that process has held true. "The word blog, for example, B-L-O-G. I believe it took four years from its coinage to its entry into the dictionary," said Sokolowski. The word AIDS, which first appeared in 1982, was included in their dictionary two years later in 1984. Sokolowski said that’s the fastest a word had ever been added. Until now. Read more: WGBH

Here’s How Words Get Removed from the Dictionary

October 17th, 2019 by The dictionary isn’t forever. Here’s the lowdown on what happens to a word when its popularity starts to wane. You can’t call someone a frutescent snollygoster anymore—at least not officially. Those words have been deleted from the dictionary, so you’ll have to come up with alternate terms to describe a shrubby, unscrupulous politician. And those words aren’t alone. Each year, a slew of old-timey words don’t make the cut to the next edition. Here’s how the process of deleting a word from the dictionary works and why it happens in the first place. Why are words deleted from the dictionary? The dictionary is a steadily enlarging volume, with thousands of new words being added each year. That’s because the English language constantly evolves and changes. Some new words arise from emerging and expanding disciplines. Others come from pop culture, which gives rise to slang that sometimes goes mainstream. Definitions also change and shift, so common words gain new meanings and nuances. (In fact, these 25 brand-new words were added to the dictionary in 2019.) On the flip side, there are also words that become obsolete. As a result, words get removed from the dictionary, though this doesn’t happen nearly as frequently as they’re added. How many words are removed from the dictionary each year? Very few words actually get removed from the dictionary. Instead, they’ll stay in but get categorized in a different way. The unabridged Collins English Dictionary uses labels like “obsolete,” “archaic,” or “old-fashioned” to designate the kind of words that are no longer in circulation. And the Oxford English Dictionary uses labels like “Now hist.” and “Obs.” to indicate that a word is historical or obsolete. There are plenty of bygone words that are no longer in use, but they’ll still show up in various dictionaries. Historians and scholars may need to know the origins and definitions of old, obscure words while doing research, so that’s why some out-of-date words remain. Believe it or not, some dictionaries also have “fake” entries—here’s why. Who decides which words to delete? Lexicographers, aka dictionary editors, decide which words make it into the dictionary—and also which ones are ready for deletion. While adding a word to the dictionary is a rigorous process, it’s even more difficult for a word to get deleted. Lexicographers maintain and study vast language databases to keep up-to-date on the words in circulation across various mediums. Most words that are marked for deletion will remain in online dictionaries (or will be removed from one dictionary but remain in others) even after they’re cut from print editions. Sometimes even lexicographers make mistakes. Check out how “dord” and 8 other words (that aren’t actually words) ended up in the dictionary by accident. Read more: Reader's Digest

Here’s How Words Get Added to the Dictionary

October 13th, 2019 by Just look it up—or look here to check out the dish on dictionaries that logophiles will love! (Logophile means word lover!) What’s the deal with new words? Where do they come from and how do they go from obscure to official? First, new words have to circulate in culture to make it into the dictionary. They have to be used and understood. Words have a much better chance of getting added to the dictionary if you see them in print or hear them in conversation. It’s actually a full-time job to scour popular communication to figure out what new words are surfacing in our vernacular. According to Merriam-Webster, America’s oldest dictionary first published in 1806, “dictionary editors read actively, looking for changes in the language.” Inspired to try reading the whole dictionary? Here’s how long it would take you. What’s a lexicographer and what do they do? Are you a logophile, aka someone with a passion for words? If so, being a professional lexicographer may be the ideal job for you. Lexicographers get to decide which words make it into the dictionary, and they do so by reading widely across industries and disciplines. However, they also make decisions about which slang terms make it in. Lexicographer Kory Stamper calls the dictionary, “a human document, constantly being compiled, proofread, and updated by actual, living, awkward people.” Check out the requirements you need to become lexicographer, including something called “sprachgefühl.” How many words are added to the dictionary each year? Dictionaries can sometimes get over 1,000 new words per year. So far, in 2019 the Merriam-Webster added over 600 in April and another 500+ in September. After lexicographers decide which words warrant inclusion, they write a new definition. Some existing words also gain additional meanings, and there are usually thousands of revisions. The dictionary is a constantly evolving work-in-progress, just like the language it describes and defines. For instance, the word “peak” recently went from being just a sharp, pointed end to also being something at the height of popularity. Occasionally fake words (like dord!) actually end up in the dictionary by mistake. Read more: Reader's Digest

Documents that Changed the World: Noah Webster’s dictionary, 1828

May 28th, 2016 by It’s twilight time for printed dictionaries, whose word-filled bulk weighed down desks, held open doors and by turns inspired and intimidated writers searching for the perfect word. Lexicography — the making of dictionaries — has gone digital. Though a few are still published, the dictionary’s time as printed, bound documents is almost up. In this meantime, Joe Janes turns the attention of his Documents that Changed the World podcast series to the man as firmly identified with dictionaries as Hershey is with chocolate, Noah Webster, and the 70,000-word “American Dictionary of the English language” he published in 1828. It was one of the last dictionaries to be compiled by a single person. Read more: UW Today‎

Anyone can contribute to this dictionary of the world’s dying languages

February 25th, 2016 by Scientists estimate that at least 3,000 of the 6,900 languages currently spoken around the world will be lost by the end of this century. There are many academic efforts to reverse this linguistic erosion, from National Geographic’s Enduring Voices Project to the National Science Foundation-backed Rosetta Project, but the scale of the task also demands a grassroots effort. So volunteer organization Wikitongues, which collects oral histories, is answering this call by creating a crowd-sourced dictionary app: Native speakers will soon be able to use it to preserve their languages simply by recording words, phrases, and videos on their phones. Read more: Quartz‎

The case of the missing “u”s in American English

January 18th, 2016 by When my American editor asked me to research why Brits spell their words with so many extra ‘u’s, I immediately knew he had it all wrong. As a British journalist, it’s perfectly obvious to me that we have the correct amount of ‘u’s, and that American spelling has lost its vowels along the way. “Color,” “honor,” and “favor” all look quite stubby to me—they’re positively crying out to be adorned with a few extra ‘u’s. But it turns out that the “o(u)r” suffix has quite a confused history. The Online Etymology Dictionary reports that –our comes from old French while –or is Latin. English has used both endings for several centuries. Indeed, the first three folios of Shakespeare’s plays reportedly used both spellings equally. But by the late 18th and early 19th centuries, both the US and the UK started to solidify their preferences, and did so differently. Read more: Quartz‎

An Online Dictionary Plans to Catalog a Million Emerging English Words

October 5th, 2015 by With viral memes and hashtags sweeping the internet on the daily, language is evolving faster than conventional dictionaries can keep up. You may have been “procrastatweeting” about the “popepocalypse” last week, but the stalwart publishers of the Oxford English won’t give your neologisms official recognition for years to come, if ever. Heck, they didn’t even put hoverboard down until 2015! Some lexicographers, however believe these internet coinages deserve to be documented now. The New York Times has a fascinating article today detailing Erin McKean’s new effort to unearth a million up-and-coming English words, those not yet found in traditional dictionaries. McKean, a former editor of the New Oxford American Dictionary, has enlisted a data analytics firm to analyze online publications for language structures and patterns (like quotation marks or em dashes) that might indicate the introduction of a new term. She eventually plans to incorporate the found words into her online dictionary, Wordnik.com. Read more: Gizmodo

Cutting nature words from the dictionary is wrong. Children cannot live on tech alone

October 5th, 2015 by Like many “outdoor types” and children of the Fifties, my heart sank when I read that the Oxford Junior Dictionary had cut “acorn”, “buttercup” and “conker” from its pages and inserted “blog”, “broadband” and “voicemail”. Those who applaud the decision explained that it was a dictionary’s job to reflect modern use rather than to preserve our etymological heritage. I have long been an avid user of the dictionary and I seem to remember, when I was younger, that it was there to tell me the meaning of a word I did not know. All the children of my acquaintance understand “blog”, “broadband” and “voicemail”. Why bother to tell them? On that premise, it would make far more sense to include “kingfisher”, “lark” and “mistletoe”; three more that have bitten the dust and whose meanings they are unlikely to know since they describe forms of life that modern children, the compilers of the dictionary opine, encounter so rarely. If it is the priority of a dictionary to state the obvious rather than to encourage learning, then something has gone drastically wrong with our approach to life and – even more worryingly – with our relationship to the countryside. Read more: The Telegraph

All words from all languages in one dictionary

September 21st, 2015 by The universal online dictionary Kamusi has just added 1.2 million terms from several databases in its quest to translate all the meanings of every word in all the world's languages. Three African languages and 200,000 words of Vietnamese will soon follow. Kamusi, which means dictionary in Swahili, aims to translate all the meanings of words from 7,000 languages from around the world into all other languages, and it will include definitions and usage examples. This vast project, which began twenty years ago, is growing at an exponential rate. Some languages, like English and Swahili, are already largely available. More than a translator, this dictionary delves into the words so that two meanings of the same term can no longer be confused. Take the English word light: in French, the automatic translator will translate it as léger or lumière depending on the context. Yet the chosen meaning is often incorrect, and the text becomes gibberish. The problem is even more pronounced when it comes to less common languages. Kamusi, which is now an NGO, intends to overcome these pitfalls. It includes both definitions and examples. In addition to being ambitious, the project is also a major technological challenge because a massive amount of data needs to be stored, organized and made accessible. Read more: phys.org

Interesting Facts about Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary

September 21st, 2015 by A short interesting history of Doctor Johnson’s celebrated Dictionary of the English Language Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary is his crowning achievement: it is more famous than his one novel (Rasselas) and, although he was also a gifted poet, it is for his lexicography above all else that Johnson is remembered. First published in two large volumes in 1755, the book’s full title was A dictionary of the English Language: in which the words are deduced from their originals, and illustrated in their different significations by examples from the best writers. To which are prefixed, a history of the language, and an English grammar. It’s no surprise that it’s usually known as ‘Johnson’s Dictionary’. What follows are some of our favourite interesting facts about Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary – a monumental achievement in English literary scholarship. Johnson’s wasn’t the first English dictionary: before his, there had been several such works. Richard Mulcaster had compiled a list of English words in the sixteenth century (albeit without definitions), and in 1604 Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall had appeared. Lexicography was as much about borrowing and improving as it was about creating from scratch. Johnson’s Dictionary itself drew heavily on Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britannicum (1730), which in turn had relied on John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708), which itself had borrowed generously from John Harris’s An Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (1704). But none of these was on the same scale as Samuel Johnson’s dictionary. A far greater size and scope would be what Johnson, in 1755, brought to the table – the ‘table alphabeticall’, that is. It would take him nine years to complete, working with several assistants. Read more: Interesting Literature

Social media decoding dictionary launched for concerned parents

September 7th, 2015 by Parents concerned their children are offering to GNOC and give away their ASL will be able to decode social media using a language guide launched by government. The dictionary translates "popular teen chat acronyms", including get naked on cam (GNOC) and age, sex, location (ASL) often used by children using anonymous chat rooms to disclose their personal details. The tool will help eagle-eyed parents spot when their child issues a P999, also known as a parent alert, or a CD9 (Code 9), to make their online friends aware their parents are around. Read more: The Telegraph

The Oxford English Dictionary “Birth Word” Engine Helps You Discover The Word That Was Born When You Were

August 11th, 2015 by The Oxford English Dictionary created a "birthday word" engine, which tells you what words were "born," aka used for the first known time, in the same year as you. Because who doesn't want to celebrate their birthday alongside a word like "gobsmacked?" No one. That's who. Read more: Bustle