New Dictionary Words? Cool.Feb. 12, 2004
Now it's official. The steady stream of junk e-mail cluttering your inbox? It's called "spam," and last summer, that word and 10,000 others debuted in the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.
Did you have favorite slang words
Spam's entry to the dictionary's newest edition -- an all-encompassing revision process that occurs about once a decade -- took a scant nine years, says Mike Roundy, an associate editor for the physical sciences at Merriam-Webster. Other additions took much longer -- "wheatgrass," meaning perennial grass, is a term that's been around since the 1600s, but just made it in this year.
"What we want to see is that a word is being used in the language, that it's being used frequently -- in general sources, not just technical ones -- and also that it's being used with that certain frequency over a span of time," he says.
Roundy, who in his 12-year tenure has participated in two complete revisions, says he and the other editors constantly scour publications for words to include in the company's citation files -- begun more than a century ago and now numbering 15.5 million. "It's really on the basis of these citations that any new word or meaning is going to be entered," he says.
For this recent edition, technology proved to be the most prolific producer of new words. "A decade ago, although the Internet existed, almost nobody used it," Roundy says. On the other hand, obsolete technology, such as a "microreader," a device used with microfiche, was dropped.
Slang is "undeniably part of the language," he says, continuing to provide its fair share of vocabulary. Words such as "phat," which means excellent, and "dead presidents," which refers to U.S. paper money, were added just last year, although both have been in use for decades.
Jeanette Denton, assistant professor of English and linguistics at Baylor, agrees that slang impacts our language, but adds that its usage can be fleeting. "You will always have new slang for words that mean 'good' and 'bad' because the ones we have are used so much they become bleached of any semantic content."
There are exceptions, though, Denton says. "One of the longest-lived slang words is 'cool.' It's been around since the late '50s or something, and it doesn't want to die."