Words Of Achievement: When Words Get Added To The Dictionary

And this year’s inductees to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary are….

Okay, so maybe there isn’t an award show or any pomp and circumstance, but when a new repertoire of words like Pumpkin SpiceShrinkflation and Adorkable, joins the hallowed pages of our national dictionary, it’s kind of a big deal, in my book anyway.

Recently, I read an article highlighting some of this year’s 2022 picks, and it gave me pause. As a writer, it’s embarrassing to admit, but I’d never put much thought to how the tools of my trade had come to dwell under the same cardboard roof nor the fact that each year new words move in and join them. It makes sense though. As society evolves and expands so too must our language. How else would we know how to share, describe, or talk about things like Galentine’s Day? For those of you who don’t know, this new trending term recognizes February 13th, the day before Valentine’s Day as a holiday, for women especially, to celebrate their friendships. 

So, how does a word achieve enough greatness to be added to the dictionary? The short answer, it gets used a lot, but a better explanation begins with a roomful of lexicographers. These language experts spend their time reading, everything; from magazines and newspapers to books, scripts, and even song lyrics, they’re constantly on the hunt for new words not seen before. Once discovered, that word is entered into a master data base to be viewed by another army of editors who are tasked with quantifying and qualifying the term’s long-term use and popularity. At the Oxford English Dictionary for example, words are considered entry-worthy only if they meet the Rule of Five: the word must be used at least five times in five different sources within a five-year period. 

In 1828, Noah Webster created a dictionary that included informal, nonstandard vocabulary because he believed it was important to reflect the way people speak in daily life. That tradition continues today as several slang or trending terms with proven staying power are sprinkled liberally throughout the pages of the Merriam-Webster tome. ICYMI (in case you missed it), you can check out this year’s 370 hall of famers, added to the nearly half million already alphabetically organized linguistic nuggets and definitions, anytime. With the Dawn Chorus of wild birds serenading you, enjoy a leisurely browse while eating your morning cereal with Oat Milk or a spicy Banh Mi at lunch. FWIW (for what it’s worth), I thought it was all a little Sus, too, but as you peruse the lofty columns that are the pillars of our language, I think you’ll agree, the dictionary is pretty Yeet.

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