Culture

Merriam-Webster just added 640 new words

A word (heh) of warning: If you hate internet slang and buzzy pop culture words, this news isn’t for you.

Merriam-Webster has added 640 new words to the dictionary, and together, they’re a pretty good portrait of how we talk to each other online in 2019.

Take, for instance, the word “buzzy.” We just used it in the previous paragraph and it felt so natural! So appropriate. And wouldn’t you know, it’s one of those 640 new words. The most surprising news there is that it wasn’t in the dictionary already.

Also in the latest class of legitimate words: “stan,” as in “we stan that person.” Don’t know what it means? Ask any given teenager, they’ll be able to explain. “Swole” is in there too, a popular internet term for a someone who’s muscular.

The political catchall “snowflake” has gotten an update. No longer does it just mean “little thing that falls from the sky when it’s cold.” As anyone who rants about politics on Twitter can tell you, snowflake officially also now means “someone regarded or treated as unique or special” or “someone who is overly sensitive.” So, basically, anyone who doesn’t agree with you during a Facebook argument.

“Peak” is another old word with an newly expanded meaning. If you wanted to say, “reading stories about new dictionary entries is peak word-nerd behavior,” you would be linguistically correct, by Merriam-Webster’s standards.

The English language never sleeps, and neither does the dictionary. The work of revising a dictionary is constant, and it mirrors the culture’s need to make sense of the world with words. There are always new things to be named and new uses for existing words to be explained. A release of new words is also a map of the workings of a dictionary—you get to see what we’ve been up to—and of how words from different contexts come to reside in the same place.

It all begins, in each case, with evidence of words in use. Each word follows its own path at its own pace before its use is widespread enough to be included in a dictionary. We watch as words move from specialized contexts to more general use and we make citations for each word in order to draft our definitions. This means, in other words, that we have the receipts (in a manner of speaking).

New Meanings for Old Words

New meanings of existing words make for a particularly fascinating category—we seem to watch the language change before our eyes as we record these senses.

Snowflake: Now used to mean both “someone regarded or treated as unique or special” and “someone who is overly sensitive.”
Purple: Extending the blending of red and blue to the metaphorical level, purple can now refer to geographical areas where voters are split between Democrats and Republicans.
Tailwind and headwind: These words are now often used figuratively to refer to a force or influence that either helps or hinders progress.
Peak: Metaphorically extended to mean “being at the height of popularity, use, or attention,” as in “peak television” (or maybe “peak word nerd”).
Goldilocks: Even a fairy tale can become a metaphor, and this new colorful definition, referring to the character whose preferred porridge is neither too hot nor too cold, has inspired astronomers to use it to describe “an area of planetary orbit in which temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold to support life.”

New Compound Terms

Compound terms are those made up of two or more words that have become lexicalized and are no longer self-explanatory—so they need their own definitions.

Page view: an instance of a user viewing an individual page on a website.
On-brand: typical of a particular brand or public image or identity.
Garbage time: the final moments or minutes of a game in which one side has an insurmountable lead.
Go-cup: a plastic or paper cup used especially for taking a beverage off the premises of a bar, restaurant, etc.
Screen time: This first referred to the amount of time someone appeared in front of a camera in a movie (a use dating back to the golden age of Hollywood) and now referring to time spent in front of a screen.

New Words from Science and Medicine

New vocabulary often comes from fields of science, where recent discoveries, procedures, and theories have new names.

Qubit: the unit of information in a computational model based on the unstable qualities of quantum mechanics, a blend of quantum and bit (as in a unit of digital information).
Geosmin: From the science of smell, this word names a chemical element in the recognizable odor of recent rainfall called petrichor.
Bioabsorbable: capable of being absorbed by living tissue.
Traumatology: the study, diagnosis, and treatment severe, acute physical injuries sustained by individuals requiring immediate medical attention.
Salutogenesis: A newer way of thinking about health, salutogenesis is a manner of monitoring health by promoting well-being rather than measuring disease.
Gender nonconforming: exhibiting behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits that do not correspond with the traits typically associated with one’s sex.
Top surgery: a type of gender confirmation surgery in which a person’s breasts are removed or augmented to match their gender identity.
Bottom surgery: a type of gender confirmation surgery in which a person’s genitalia are altered to match their gender identity.

New Words from Business

Evolution in the way business is conducted and described brings us new business and economic words including:

Gig economy: (coined in 2009) economic activity that involves the use of temporary or freelance workers to perform jobs typically in the service sector.
Vulture capitalism: (first used in the “greed is good” 1980s) a form of venture capitalism in which aggressive methods are used to buy a distressed business with the intention of selling it at a profit.

New Words from Entertainment

Entertainment contexts also produce new words that have made it into our dictionary.

Buzzy: causing or characterized by a lot of speculative or excited talk or attention (that is, generating buzz).
Bottle episode: an inexpensively produced episode of a television series that is typically confined to one setting.
EGOT: An entry in the dictionary seems like an appropriate award for the acronym that stands for the rare achievement of winning an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony.

A release of new entries is a chance to take stock of how our language is growing as well as a moment for true word lovers to stan for favorite new words—and to learn more about them, today is definitely not the time to unplug.

In the official Merriam-Webster lexicon they now join other millennial-speak such as “rando,” “adorbs” and “fav,” which the dictionary added last year.(By AJ Willingham)

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