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New words for a 'New World': An updated dictionary

  VIDEO
CNN's Miles O'Brien talks with "Webster's" editor-in-chief Michael Agnes
Windows Media 28K 80K
 

October 11, 1999
Web posted at: 12:48 p.m. EST (1648 GMT)

"Webster's New World College Dictionary"
Michael Agnes, Andrew N. Sparks
IDG Books Worldwide
$21.95 Hardcover, $27.95 Leather

(CNN) -- Here's a job that might come under the "nice work if you can get it" category. You're assigned to read lots of periodicals and books, watch TV, go to the movies and listen to the radio. All you have to do is carry a notebook and jot down words you've never heard before.

The man who decides who does that is Michael Agnes, editor-in-chief of "Webster's New World College Dictionary." The fourth edition is now in bookstores and its new entries offer a snapshot of our living language.

As part of his job, Agnes studies changes in language. He tracks new words and new usage of existing words. He oversees a group of employees whose full-time job is to monitor these changes.

For example, the phrase "aw, shucks" has been around for a long time, but Agnes and his group have noticed a new adjectival usage that has made its way into the new dictionary. People might now say someone has an "aw-shucks" attitude, a relatively new use of the phrase.

Techno-speak

Terms from the increasing presence of the Internet in daily life are finding their way into common usage.

To those who have used auction sites on the World Wide Web, the term "Dutch auction" might have become a familiar phrase. According to Agnes, a Dutch auction is one in which "the bidding price lowers, as opposed to the normal pattern of things where the bidding price rises."

And technology has added the word "telecommute" to the language. Agnes defines "telecommute" as conducting "your business from a site away from the central office, often at home and using computer communications." The third edition of the "Webster's New World College Dictionary" included "telecommuting," the noun form of the verb.

Although his business is language, Agnes says he tries not to let it show when he finds people's speech upsetting. "We're not supposed to editorialize," he says, "We report language the way CNN reports news, we do not editorialize."

But, he confesses, "Occasionally ... I'm appalled."


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