Merriam-Webster Tells Us Why 'Catfish' and 'Yooper' Just Entered the Dictionary Together

Merriam-Webster announced the newest additions to its hallowed tome Monday, as over 150 words are joining their widely used Collegiate Dictionary.

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Merriam-Webster announced the newest additions to its hallowed tome Monday, as over 150 words are joining their widely used Collegiate Dictionary. The new words of note include examples of how we talk now – techspeak, slang, and portmanteaus – and the usual head scratchers that have us asking "how was this not in the dictionary before?"

Merriam-Webster unveiled 15 of its newest words in a blog post and offered a brief explanation for why some of the words were added. But without further ado, here are the words (and their M-W definitions) at the top of the class of 2014:

  1. Big data (n): an accumulation of data that is too large and complex for processing by traditional database management tools.
  2. Catfish (n): a person who sets up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes.
  3. Crowdfunding (n): the practice of soliciting financial contributions from a large number of people especially from the online community.
  4. Fracking (n): the injection of fluid into shale beds at high pressure in order to free up petroleum resources (such as oil or natural gas).
  5. Freegan (n): an activist who scavenges for free food (as in waste receptacles at stores and restaurants) as a means of reducing consumption of resources.
  6. Gamification (n): the process of adding games or gamelike elements to something (as a task) so as to encourage participation.
  7. Hashtag (n): a word or phrase preceded by the symbol # that classifies or categorizes the accompanying text (such as a tweet).
  8. Pho (n): a soup made of beef or chicken broth and rice noodles.
  9. Poutine (n): a dish of French fries covered with brown gravy and cheese curds.
  10. Selfie (n): an image of oneself taken by oneself using a digital camera especially for posting on social networks.
  11. Social networking (n): the creation and maintenance of personal and business relationships especially online.
  12. Steampunk (n): science fiction dealing with 19th-century societies dominated by historical or imagined steam-powered technology.
  13. Turducken (n): a boneless chicken stuffed into a boneless duck stuffed into a boneless turkey.
  14. Tweep (n): a person who uses the Twitter online message service to send and receive tweets. 
  15. Yooper (n): a native or resident of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan —used as a nickname.

It's always fun to see dictionaries try to catch up to the 21st Century lexicon, and this year's list from M-W is no different. But we do have a few questions. Why, for example, are "social networking" and "selfie" (which was Oxford Dictionaries' 2013 word of the year) only making it into the Collegiate Dictionary in 2014, when "sexting" was added two years ago?

Kory Stamper, an associate editor at Merriam-Webster, told The Wire in a phone interview that these new tech-centric words are "entered base on their accumulated written use that they have in English prose." In other words, it helps to generate a conversation. "Part of why sexting got in so quickly, got in before selfie for instance, is because it sort of spread into this broader panic ... because of the legal implications of sexting and underage sexting, suddenly it was being discussed in the American Bar Association Journal and TIME and Vibe, so you saw it sort of show up everywhere all at once," Stamper said. "Catfish," the newest word added, according to Stamper, also benefited from this kind of blow up. Stamper noted that it was "such a sensation from the moment that it came on the scene," stemming from first the eponymous documentary and then the Manti Te'o story 

This also explains why it took so long to get "poutine" and "Yooper" in the dictionary. Surely the upper peninsula of Michigan and its residents have been around far longer than Twitter and its "tweeps," but both are making it in together this year. Why? Because these older words tend to not have the benefit of more widespread use. "These go back a ways, but when we would read to look for new words we would see instances of poutine, it was always glossed. It was explained in running text, and to a lexicographer that’s just a sign that the word hasn’t fully entered the language," Stamper explained. "Sometimes it just takes a long time for them to leave their particular field and go into more general use."

Still, we're just glad "turducken" finally gets the Merriam-Webster stamp of approval after years of being celebrated as an alternative Thanksgiving treat.. Other words of note making it into M-W this year: "fangirl," "baby bump," and "unfriend."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.