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The Merriam-Webster Word: Not from Colbert!
Culture

The Merriam-Webster Word: Not from Colbert!

Merriam-Webster introduces its latest new entries into their popular series of English dictionaries.

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Language evolves constantly. Words are invented, interpreted, and redefined on a daily basis. The concepts of the universe are described by these strange particles of sound and curious articles of scribbles. Labeling those syllables and scripts is a constant ongoing process and each language’s official book of words is always behind in capturing these creative implementations. To cover for their inadequacy, the dictionaries call words they haven’t classified and documented “slang” as if the people crudely and carelessly sling around expressions like pig slop. “It’s not language unless WE say it is,” goes the mentality of the word-keepers. Haughty, cocky, and snobbish all the same but language stops for no man, woman, or dictionary. The tongue wags on.

Merriam-Webster Inc. seeks to futilely keep up with the changing times adding over 100 new expressions into their Collegiate Dictionary’s new edition. The wordbook which originated in the 1800’s from Noah Webster, the guy who turned English into “American”, adds these new terminologies as a result of observing their usage over the years.

Peter Sokolowski, an editor-at-large for the Springfield, Massachusetts located dictionary publisher, explains:

“As soon as we see the word used without explanation or translation or gloss, we consider it a naturalized citizen of the English language. If somebody is using it to convey a specific idea and that idea is successfully conveyed in that word, it’s ready to go in the dictionary”

I don’t know. Do YOU understand what I’m talking about if I use the word “edamame”? What about “pescatarian”? Or “prosecco”? What does “soju” mean? “Mondegreen”? I have heard of “dirty bomb” being used before but what about “Norovirus”? Is an “infinity pool” an endless office betting contest or an endless billiards tournament? Have you heard of the word “Webinar” and what does that mean? How about “netroots”? I’ve only heard of that one a few days ago reading a political forum. Well everybody probably has heard of “Texas Hold ‘Em” so it’s not a total washout.

Gathered from the worlds of cooking, news events, technology, and new products, these approved phrasings have bridged the gap from the jargon galaxy (sorta). And their approval has taken some words decades to accomplished like in the case of “mondegreen” which means “words mistaken for other words” as in James Brown’s or Bob Dylan’s spoken lyrics (Ha!). Minted and coined since 1954, ‘mondegreen’ came from an old Scottish ballad with one particular line that goes “laid him on the green”. With the trademark accent involved this began to be heard as “Lady Mondegreen” and somebody had a new word to play with.

Old rock ‘n’ roll lyrics like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “There’s a bad moon on the rise” (from 1969’s Bad Moon Rising) get confused for “There’s a bathroom on the right”. Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze from 1967 and its line “‘Scuse me, while I kiss the sky” gets misheard as “‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy” to often hilarious effect. The Merriam-Webster squad got such a kick out of this ‘mondegreen’ phenomenon that they are planning on asking people to submit their favorite misinterpreted lyrics on the company’s website.

‘Mondegreen’ like other long-watched words join the word bible based on how widely they are used in publications from newspapers all the way to technical manuals. Word-head Sokolowski says, “They can float for decades. What that means for the most part is that they’ve been used in more spoken forms than they were found written until recently.” Merriam-Webster’s president and publisher, John Morse, remarks that the cleverness of words created from the world of the internet makes them easy to grasp giving them staying power. Mr. Morse stands in teary-eyed awe, “There’s a kind of collective genius on the part of the people developing this technology, using vocabulary that is immediately accessible to all of us. It’s sometimes absolutely poetic.” Allen Metcalf, executive secretary of the American Dialect Society and English professor at MacMurray College in Illinois, thinks that the new entries that came from the growing popularity of cooking shows and international cuisine will be among the most lasting and useful of the latest additions. Prof. Metcalf admits his true feelings on past and present work in the dictionary’s word additions, “I’m kind of used to laughing at the choices these editors publicize, but this time I’m impressed.”

But of course you all want more, so let me impress you with a sampling of the new edition of additions for Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (there’s a very interesting addition under the letter ‘F’):

•Air quotes (1989): gesture made by raising and flexing the index and middle fingers of both hands, used to call attention to a spoken word or expression.

•Dark energy (1998): hypothetical form of energy that produces a force that opposes gravity and is thought to cause the accelerating expansion of the universe.

•Dirty bomb (1956): bomb designed to release radioactive material.

•Dwarf planet (1993): celestial body that orbits the sun and has a spherical shape, but is too small to disturb other objects from its orbit.

•Edamame (1951): immature green soybeans, usually in the pod.

•Fanboy (1919): boy who is an enthusiastic devotee, such as of comics or movies.

•Infinity pool (1992): outdoor swimming pool with an edge over which water flows into a trough, but seems to flow into the horizon.

•Jukebox musical (1993): musical that features popular songs from the past.

•Kiteboarding (1996): the sport of riding on a small surfboard propelled across water by a large kite, to which the rider is harnessed.

•Malware (1990): software designed to interfere with a computer’s normal functioning.

•Mental health day (1971): day that an employee takes off from work to relieve stress or renew vitality.

•Mondegreen (1954): word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung. From the mishearing in a Scottish ballad of “laid him on the green” as “Lady Mondegreen.”

•Netroots (2003): grassroots political activists who communicate via the Internet, especially by blogs.

•Norovirus (2002): any of a genus of small round single-stranded RNA viruses; specifically, Norwalk virus.

•Pescatarian (1993): vegetarian whose diet includes fish.

•Phytonutrient (1994): bioactive, plant-derived compound (as resveratrol) associated with positive health effects.

•Pretexting (1992): presenting oneself as someone else to obtain private information.

•Prosecco (1881): a dry Italian sparkling wine.

•Racino (1995): racetrack at which slot machines are available for gamblers.

•Soju (1978): a Korean vodka distilled from rice.

•Subprime (1995) 1: having or being an interest rate that is higher than a prime rate and is extended especially to low-income borrowers; 2: extending or obtaining a subprime loan.

•Supercross (1983): motorcycle race held in a stadium on a dirt track having hairpin turns and high jumps.

•Texas Hold ’em (1995): Poker in which each player is dealt two cards face down and all players share five cards dealt face-up.

•Webinar (1998): live, online educational presentation during which participating viewers can submit questions and comments.

•Wing nut (circa 1900): Slang: one who advocates extreme measures or changes; radical.

Word is bond to the Associated Press through SFGate.com.

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About the Author: John Lucas