• Carmen Milligan

455 new words added!

Hundreds of words and definitions are added to the dictionary each month. I had no idea! Merriam-Webster added 455 new words in October 2021. That's a lot of words, and it's just one month! Words like "dad bod", "fluffernutter", and "vaccine passport" were added as new words, but also new definitions were added to existing words. "Astroturf" can now have the political meaning of something that is presented as grassroots and coming from ordinary people, but is actually backed by powerful companies/people.

How is a word added? It has to have “widespread, frequent, meaningful usage.” And editors don't decide on a whim or based on a limited amount of time. Per the Merriam-Webster site, "To be included in a Merriam-Webster dictionary, a word must be used in a substantial number of citations that come from a wide range of publications over a considerable period of time. Specifically, the word must have enough citations to allow accurate judgments about its establishment, currency, and meaning."

Far fewer words are removed. You've seen the notation of "archaic" or "obsolete" on a dictionary entry, I'm sure. Those two terms have specific parameters, as well. Nothing is left to chance in the dictionary world. For your edification: It defines an archaic word as one with “sporadic” print evidence of its use after 1755, and an obsolete word as one with “little or no” evidence of use since then.

Some words that have been removed are Vitamin G, snollygoster, hodad, frutescent, and sternforemost. They simply are no longer used.

The world of maintaining a listing of words with their usage, definitions, and origin fairly boggles my mind. What a huge undertaking this must have been when it was decided to compile the language. The oldest known word listing is in the form of cuneiform tablets from 2300 BCE, telling me that this desire to capture the lexicon is practically as old as man.

The fact that language is fluid and dynamic is a beautiful thing. It's only right that words would come and go according to events, societies, and the very nature of living. We are a complex and varied species, and language is our way of expression and understanding. To take, at least in English, 26 letters and have the ability to construct so many words, combined to form sentences, strung together to put forth meaning to another human being ... it's awe-inspiring!

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