Here’s How Words Get Added to the Dictionary

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

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