By: Lauren Saccone
Every time Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary updates, there is some sort of outcry. People complain about the inclusion of slang, or why certain words make the cut over others. Linguistics experts agonize over every choice, trying to ensure that the selected words and phrases have a valid place in the common vernacular. Their most recent selections included some truly surprising picks.
Among the roughly 100 words picked, one of the most surprising is the phrase "f-bomb." Although this is the first time it appears in the hallowed Webster’s Dictionary, the phrase "f-bomb" has appeared widely on online dictionaries. The phrase is still under consideration for inclusion in the Oxford University Press.
“We saw another huge spike [in use] after Dick Cheney dropped an f-bomb in the Senate in 2004,” explained Kory Stamper, an associate editor at Merriam Webster, in an interview. “It’s a word that is visually very evocative. It’s not just the f-word, it’s the f-bomb. You know that it’s going to cause a lot of consternation and possible damage.”
Another surprising selection from the folks at austere Merriam Webster was the phrase "sexting." Defined as "the sending of sexually explicit messages or images by cellphone," the phrase has come into common usage in recent years as the fad ran rampant among students.
One word that’s been commonly used for decades but just recently appeared in the dictionary in its common usage is the phrase "earworm." Although Webster’s had defined it as an insect devoted to the destruction of corn, the newest edition features the phrasing popularized by author Stephen King.
“My friend the Longhair says that’s what you call songs that burrow into your head and commence chewing your brains,” wrote King in Entertainment Weekly. “The dreaded earworm can turn even a great song into something you’d run from, screaming at the top of your lungs. If only you could.”
King isn’t the only celebrity who contributed to the dictionary. The phrase "aha moment" was popularized by television superstar Oprah Winfrey. Although the phrase was used intermittently since the 1930s, Oprah’s usage on her hit television show brought it to mainstream focus.
“In fact, aha moment is so closely associated with Oprah that in 2009, she and Mutual of Omaha got involved in a legal imbroglio over Mutual of Omaha’s use of the phrase, with Oprah claiming that aha moment was her catchphrase and she had the rights to it,” explained Stamper.
Some of the words may seem arbitrarily chosen – "man-cave" is an interesting option – but the Merriam Webster editors devote enormous time and energy to picking words that deserve to enter the dictionary.
“Every day, every editor at Merriam Webster does what we call reading and marking,” says Stamper. “We read a wide variety of sources, from books to magazine, to Chinese takeout menus. We read everything we can. Every editor looks for words that catch their eye.”
Whether you find Merriam Webster’s newest entries to be amusing, entertaining, offensive, or just bizarre, they are a tribute to the evolution of language. Rather than a stagnant thing, language is constantly evolving, and these new words – however silly they may seem – are a reminder of that remarkable fact.
[Pic via Flickr - greeblie]