The first dictionary was published by Noah Webster in 1806. Its official name at the time was A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. Since then, copious words have been added, have had many connotations, and now slang and acronyms have shown their faces in this reference book, too.
But, why and when did slang start to appear? The first record I can find of this happening was in 2009 when internet slang like frenemy, webisode, and flash mob were added to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. Why should acronyms like “LOL” be in the dictionary? Do they really need to be defined for the public? Also, haven’t they been around since the internet began? Dictionaries, including online dictionaries, were supposed to be a safe haven for actual words, and a way to look them up easily and quickly.
Recently, a few more questionable words have been added to the The Oxford Dictionary Online. You can see the full list here on www.quartz.com. Words such as twerk, bitcoin, unlike, and squee were added. Bitcoin is a valid one, at least according to most. Squee is just cute, which is the common connotation. But, do we really need to define “me time” and “unlike” in the dictionary? Everyone and their mother know what these words mean, and they are also just considered slang and/or Facebook-speak.
So, why, you may ask, were these words only added to the Oxford Dictionary Online, and only to the Oxford Dictionary Online? According to Angus Stevenson of Oxford Dictionaries Online, “Publishing online allows us to make the results of our research available more quickly than ever before. Each month, we add about 150 million words to our corpus database of English usage examples from around the world.” Some people are coming to the conclusion that maybe these trending words will not make it through the centuries, but Slate also says, “The Dictionary content in ODO (Oxford Dictionaries Online) focuses on current English and includes modern meanings and uses of words”, while the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) is a more historical record of words and meanings in English over more than 1,000 years. Interesting…
So, how, does a word get added to a dictionary?
- Usage: If you can show that a word is used extensively (online and offline), you may have a chance at getting a word added to the dictionary. I found it interesting that many Merriam-Webster editors spend hours out of their day scouring the internet for new words, usage, and even inflected forms of words, new and old. What more could an editor/writer ask for? Also, what linguist wouldn’t want this job?
- Citations: Each citation must contain the word itself and an example of the word used in context somewhere.
- Size of Said Dictionary: Depending on how big said dictionary is, your word may or not have room to be added alongside onomatopoeia and rhetoric in the big book. For example, an abridged dictionary is likely to have less room inside than an actual full-on dictionary, according to Merriam-Webster online. Get more details on the process for Oxford Dictionary Online. Merriam-Webster Online has a slightly modified process.
In conclusion, the dictionary, in all of its mystique and monstrous knowledge, is a place where words, and words alone, should be defined, not slang, abbreviations, or acronyms. Urban Dictionary already has that covered. Can you imagine seeing the “word” srsly in an ad or any kind of marketing material and taking it seriously?
-This was originally posted on JP Enterprises’ website.