New words are a reflection of culture, obsessions and changing language
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Steel yourselves, language pedants: Dictionary.com has added 300 new words to its online database.
The latest roster additions are a potpourri of portmanteaus, hyphenations and slang terms you feel kind of embarrassed looking up, but do anyway because you are deeply uncool and language is moving into the future without you.
Three hundred words is a lot, so here are the highlights:
- cat café
- cheat day
- cold brew
- dad bod
- man bun
- mic drop
- stochastic terrorism
- struggle bus
- teachable moment
- uncanny valley
It’s rather impressionistic, isn’t it? At first, the list reads like a teenager having a hyperactive episode, but when you step back it presents a rather tight portrait of what we’re talking about right now, and how we talk about it.
How new words are born
Even though the newfound legitimacy of “bitchface” may amuse you, Dictionary.com lexicographer Jane Solomon tells CNN making the list is serious business. Approving new words is an intense, involved process that comprises different research methods – all so your sheltered aunt can finally get a solid answer on what “Kush” means.
One way to pinpoint possible new words is through corpus research, which in this case is essentially taking a whole bunch of different texts and sources and combing through them to look for patterns. That’s how words and phrases attached to current events, like “burkini” and “Black Lives Matter,” bubble to the top.
“We also have lookup data,” Solomon says. “We can see what words people have tried to look up on Dictionary.com that haven’t led to a definition.” Sometimes, people even write in requesting a definition. That’s how they decided to add petrichor, “a distinctive scent, usually described as earthy, pleasant, or sweet, produced by rainfall on very dry ground.”
“It takes a lot of time and effort and thought, so as a lexicographer we give every word the same amount of respect and attention and care,” Solomon says.
No, the language isn’t going to pot
Inevitably, whenever a lexicographical authority releases a collection of new words, there are purists ready to grouse about the decline of their precious language. To cop one of the latest entries, Solomon says this is a “teachable moment.”
“Many people who have that opinion believe that English stopped changing right before they were born, and that is simply not how the language works. It’s continually evolving,” she says.
“Is this word or that word too new or too slang? No. There’s not just one correct English. Standard English – the register of English used in school and work, is not the only correct English. As a lexicographer, I do not define how the language is used, the speakers do. And if speakers are using a certain set of words, then that is correct English.”