English is a living language, which means that over time new words are invented, created, borrowed, stolen, and otherwise inserted into both the spoken and written language. Words which had been once considered slang, or even taboo, become accepted into everyday usage. New words are a reflection of changing technology, politics, morals, and worldviews. Every year, various gatherings include linguists, lexicographers, and others engaged in heated debates about which words should now be considered “standard” in English and should, therefore, be included in English-language dictionaries.
Selecting new words and new definitions for old words for a dictionary is a challenge for lexicographers. Traditionally, lexicographers tracked language usage by reading printed materials, but technology has changed and today they use online databases such as the Corpus of Contemporary American English and the Corpus of Historical American English. In updating a dictionary, the editors will survey a panel that includes well-known critics, writers, and scholars.
In case you missed it: 150 new words and definitions have been added to the 2014 updated Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. This means that the dictionary you are currently using, if any, is now out-of-date. Some of the new entries include:
Selfie: an image of oneself taken by oneself using a digital camera especially for posting on social networks.
Tweep: a person who uses the Twitter online message service to send and receive tweets.
Gamification: the process of adding game or gamelike elements to something (as a task) so as to encourage participation.
Hashtag: a word or phrase preceded by the symbol # that clarifies or categorizes the accompanying text, such as a tweet.
Big data: an accumulation of data that is too large and complex for processing by traditional database management tools.
Catfish: a person who sets up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes.
E-waste: waste consisting of discarded electronic products (as computers, televisions, and cell phones).
Social networking: the creation and maintenance of personal and business relationships especially online.
Unfriend: to remove (someone) from a list of designated friends on a person’s social networking Web site.
Pho: a soup made of beef or chicken broth and rice noodles.
Turducken: a boneless chicken stuffed into a boneless duck stuffed into a boneless turkey.
Yooper: a nickname used for a native or resident of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, a unit of Encyclopedia Britannica Inc, has approximately 165,000 entries and 225,000 definitions. Dictionary updates from the likes of Merriam-Webster and Oxford English Dictionary often spur debates about what words deserve to be included. The inclusion of “ain’t”, for example, in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary created an uproar. Merriam-Webster is suggesting people talk about its new words (where else?) on Twitter using the hashtag #MW2014NewWords.