Merriam-Webster has added 100 words to its 114-year-old collegiate dictionary.
The latest additions include pop culture-influenced words like “aha moment” (meaning: a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension); “game changer” (meaning: a newly introduced element or factor that changes an existing situation or activity in a significant way); and even
“f-bomb” (defined as, the word fuck — used metaphorically as a euphemism).
The process of picking new words doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it taken lightly by the folks over at Merriam-Webster. GlobalPost spoke with Kory Stamper, an associate editor, who said the company tracks words for years before it decides if a word will make the dictionary cut.
“Every day, every editor at Merriam-Webster does what we call reading and marking. We read a wide variety of sources, from books to magazine, to Chinese takeout menus. We read everything we can. Every editor looks for words that catch their eye.”
Stamper explained that once an editor decides that a word may be worthy of the dictionary, he or she puts it in a database. Once a year the entire group goes through the database and marks the words it feels have taken off over the years.
“What’s funny is, our office is very quiet, we tend not to do a lot of face-to-face meetings. The process of writing definitions and looking for new words is very taxing,” Stamper said. She added that editors aren’t too fussy about ensuring their words make it into this year’s edition as there is always next year.
“If it doesn’t make it in this year, it’s just something to look forward to next year. We’re very lucky; we don’t tend to have a lot of arguments between editors about what words should go in and what words shouldn’t go in.”
The potential list of entries is several hundred words long. Making sure a word is here to stay is essential to ensuring it makes the pages of this year’s dictionary.
“Part of what’s hard is that you can’t just look at a single year’s worth of evidence. You really need to look at the whole history of what we collected.”
According to Stamper, Merriam-Webster will occasionally retire old words to make room for the new.
“It’s a little known secret, but it’s actually a lot harder to take a word out of the dictionary than it is to put a word into the dictionary,” she said. “Once a word makes it into the dictionary people tend to find them and use them more. We can really only remove words from the dictionary if they have really fallen out of current use.”
Stamper added that this year the team managed to add words without having to subtract others.
For Stamper and the Merriam-Webster team, adding words to the average person’s lexicon is all just a part of the job. “The purpose of the dictionary is to provide as accurately as possible, a concise and comprehensive record of the language as we use it, both currently and how we have used it historically.”
Stamper added that this often upsets their audience as people feel the dictionary should be the gatekeeper to how people should use a word. “We leave it up to the reader and the speaker to choose from that record the words that they feel comfortable using.”
What’s your new favorite word? Check out a few new additions with their definitions and tell us your favorites in the comments below.
aha moment n (1939) : a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension
bucket list n (2006) : a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying
cloud computing n (2006) : the practice of storing regularly used computer data on multiple servers that can be accessed through the Internet
copernicium n (2009) : a short-lived artificially produced radioactive element that has 112 protons
earworm n (1802) 1 : CORN EARWORM 2 : a song or melody that keeps repeating in one’s mind
energy drink n (1904) : a usually carbonated beverage that typically contains caffeine and other ingredients (as taurine and ginseng) intended to increase the drinker’s energy
f-bomb n (1988) : the word fuck — used metaphorically as a euphemism
game changer n (1993) : a newly introduced element or factor that changes an existing situation or activity in a significant way
gassed adj (1919) … 2 slang : drained of energy : SPENT, EXHAUSTED
gastropub n (1996) : a pub, bar, or tavern that also offers meals of high quality
man cave n (1992) : a room or space (as in a basement) designed according to the taste of the man of the house to be used as his personal area for hobbies and leisure activities
mash-up n (1859) : something created by combining elements from two or more sources: as a : a piece of music created by digitally overlaying an instrumental track with a vocal track from a different recording b : a movie or video having characters or situations from other sources c : a Web service or application that integrates data and functionalities from various online sources
sexting n (2007) : the sending of sexually explicit messages or images by cell phone
systemic risk n (1982) : the risk that the failure of one financial institution (as a bank) could cause other interconnected institutions to fail and harm the economy as a whole
underwater adj (1672) … 3 : having, relating to, or being a mortgage loan for which more is owed than the property securing the loan is worth