The Dictionary Evolution

Words are created every day, or at least it seems that way. With informal speech filtering into our everyday lives and communication, at what point do these new terms end up moving from informal to official? Usually, this would involve inclusion in the dictionary (the standard for language inclusion for hundreds of years) but what triggers this inclusion?

Living, Breathing, Language.

As you can imagine, the dictionary and the people responsible for curating it, have their work cut out. It’s reported that in 2017 alone, 1000 words were added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary and Oxford English Dictionary, including words like ‘ghosting’ and ‘hangry’.

Each year more and more words find their way in, but the words themselves would’ve been in wider use for much longer. Dictionaries are typically updated 4 times a year and of course not every word being used will make it in - who decides?

Selecting the Right Words at the Right Time.

As language is a living thing, you can imagine that many things can influence it, whether it’s something you overheard someone say or heard through a medium like TV and films. Usually, for a word to be taken seriously, it has to be used widely with an overall understanding of its meaning, so that people can use it naturally and know what it describes. This, of course, can be a long process; even more complex when it comes to interpreting them into the dictionary.

Then there is also localisation to take into consideration, with different cultures and languages all throwing up variations of the same things; different ways to describe a similar emotion or object. As translation experts, we know only too well the obstacles that can be met.

As far as the process used by Merriam-Webster, words will be considered under three different criteria – is it in widespread use?  Is this a sustained use of the word? Is it a meaningful use of the word? These criteria are detailed in the book ‘Word by Word: The Secret Life Of Dictionaries’ by Kory Stamper, Associate Editor at Merriam-Webster.

It’s interesting to remember that for language to catch on, it needs mass appeal and to be used meaningfully - something to consider when trying to coin the next new buzz word.

At Talking Heads, we use words old and new and translate into any language you require. Find out more about our services by contacting us.

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