It's the time of year in which we get new words in the dictionary! Not in our "despicable words" dictionary, to which of course you're welcome to contribute, but in the actual Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. The 2012 update includes a range of new words that you can judge as delightful or reprehensible, including bucket list, mash-up, craft beer, sexting, and f-bomb. (Hm, does this change anything for the New York Times?)
From Merriam-Webster's Peter Sokolowski, here's the full list of words (we added a few notations about why certain words were added, via the m-w.com press release):
aha moment n (1939) : a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension [Oprah Winfrey's signature phrase]
brain cramp n (1982) : an instance of temporary mental confusion resulting in an error or lapse of judgment
bucket list n (2006) : a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying [popularized by the movie title]
cloud computing n (2006) : the practice of storing regularly used computer data on multiple servers that can be accessed through the Internet [technology]
copernicium n (2009) : a short-lived artificially produced radioactive element that has 112 protons
craft beer n (1986) : a specialty beer produced in limited quantities : microbrew
earworm n (1802) 1 : corn earworm 2 : a song or melody that keeps repeating in one’s mind ["this summer's example being the inescapable Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen."]
energy drink n (1904) : a usually carbonated beverage that typically contains caffeine and other ingredients (as taurine and ginseng) intended to increase the drinker’s energy
e-reader n (1999) : a handheld electronic device designed to be used for reading e-books and similar material
f-bomb n (1988) : the word fuck — used metaphorically as a euphemism
flexitarian n (1998) : one whose normally meatless diet occasionally includes meat or fish
game changer n (1993) : a newly introduced element or factor that changes an existing situation or activity in a significant way
gassed adj (1919) ... 2 slang : drained of energy : spent, exhausted
gastropub n (1996) : a pub, bar, or tavern that also offers meals of high quality
geocaching n (2000) : a game in which players are given the geographical coordinates of a cache of items which they search for with a GPS device
life coach n (1986) : an advisor who helps people make decisions, set and reach goals, or deal with problems
man cave n (1992) : a room or space (as in a basement) designed according to the taste of the man of the house to be used as his personal area for hobbies and leisure activities
mash-up n (1859) : something created by combining elements from two or more sources: as a : a piece of music created by digitally overlaying an instrumental track with a vocal track from a different recording b : a movie or video having characters or situations from other sources c : a Web service or application that integrates data and functionalities from various online sources ["Whether it's a politician contradicting him or herself with excerpts from different speeches shown in quick succession or Danger Mouse's Grey Album, mixing Jay-Z with the Beatles, we've come to expect combined and rearranged elements that bring new perspectives and new creativity to our culture with mash-ups," says editor Sokolowski. "It's a recent phenomenon, made possible with digital editing, and it has a fun and descriptive name."]
obesogenic adj (1986) : promoting excessive weight gain : producing obesity
sexting n (2007) : the sending of sexually explicit messages or images by cell phone
shovel-ready adj (1998) of a construction project or site : ready for the start of work
systemic risk n (1982) : the risk that the failure of one financial institution (as a bank) could cause other interconnected institutions to fail and harm the economy as a whole [the global financial crisis]
tipping point n (1959) : the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place
1toxic adj (1664) ... 4 : relating to or being an asset that has lost so much value that it cannot be sold on the market
underwater adj (1672) ... 3 : having, relating to, or being a mortgage loan for which more is owed than the property securing the loan is worth
Sokolowski's personal favorite in the 2012 list is gastropub, he says: "The highbrow/lowbro
It's probably not a surprise that we wanted to know both how words get into the dictionary, and whether they ever get cut (they do!). Sokolowski referred us to a couple of M-W.com videos on the subjects. When a word is removed, he says, it's usually because the thing it names is no longer used; other times the word itself becomes dated, like hodad, used in the Beach Boys era to mean a non-surfer who pretends to be a surfer. Terms made up of two or more words, he says, are particularly susceptible to removal. (Removed words remain in the Unabridged Dictionary.) When a word is added, Sokolowski explains, the process begins with reading. Merriam-Webster editors look for words in "their natural habitat for real evidence of the language in use," and select them for entry based on new meanings and frequency of use. That doesn't mean these words haven't existed, even for centuries, as you see in the dates listed next to each of them. The dates indicate "the first use of that word in English that we can find," says Sokolowski. In 1802, earworm meant the actual creature.
Sokolowski tells us, "In the Collegiate, as in the Unabridged (and the Oxford English Dictionary), senses are in strict historical order. The first sense is the oldest; the last sense the most recent. In this way, you read the history, or "biography," of a word as you read down the entry. Many words move from the concrete to the abstract, from the literal to the metaphorical. Think of vitriol, for example, or, in this list, underwater. The new sense is metaphorical, i.e. "underwater mortgage." The lesson is that words are mutable, traveling through history as humans put different meanings on them. As Sokolowski says, "That's actually the whole story, told over and over and over again. Only dead languages are static."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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