Early March seems like an odd time to announce a bunch of new words being added to the dictionary. But so it is and here we are.
Language is a living thing, and so is Dictionary.com. Our dictionary will always be a work in progress—there’s no day in the future when we’ll mark it “complete” after adding the last word.Dictionary.com
We have misunderstood dictionaries. Sure, they’re for looking up definitions of words when we’re not sure of them. But a word’s meaning isn’t defined by a dictionary. It’s defined by the way it’s used, and the dictionary takes note of it. That’s how “errors” in the definition of a word become its new definitions. We need to get over the horrors of this. Although your Aunt Agnes who calls a gazebo a zebra isn’t likely to change the definition of that animal, unless she suddenly becomes an influencer on TikTok.
So we need to stop going crazy over ways the language is being “ruined”. Humans pick up on each others’ turns of phrase and decide whether to adopt them. Once that happens on a wide scale, the dictionary people start working on new editions.
NEW WORDS FOR 2023
Here are just a few of Dictionary.com’s new and expanded-definition words:
Nearlywed. This is a person who’s been living with a partner for a long time, might or might not be engaged without any wedding date or firm plan to marry.
Rage farming. Posting an inflammatory reaction to a political comment meant to increase engagement and spread it widely online. (Side note: If you’re on social media, you must notice how many people get suckered into this by sharing negative, sometimes borderline crazy reactions to their opinions. Been there!)
Petfluencer. An influencer who gains a following by posting content devoted to the antics of their pet.
There are hundreds of new entries. Some new, some old, all with adjustments to their meanings.
WHEN THE DICTIONARY IS WRONG
It’s weird to notice where dictionaries haven’t caught up to the language yet. Recently, I discovered this while writing an article about empathy. The dictionary (and thesaurus) use empathy and sympathy interchangeably. But they’re not the same. Sympathy has an element of pity, of creating distance between people. Example: you’re sympathetic to a homeless man while simultaneously grateful to not be in his place. Empathy puts a person in another’s shoes, feeling what they feel. Example: you can completely understand a traveler’s frustration with their luggage not ending up where they do.
Another aspect of building a dictionary is how much it relies on younger generations and where they push the language. On another recent writing project, I was stuck for a phrase and wondering if the one I thought of was still in use. So, I checked with my friend, writer/journalist, Editor of Lifestyle Magazine, Jill-Ellis Worthington. She suggested using The Urban Dictionary to keep up with what the kids are saying. I receive their Urban Word of the Day via email and it’s always an eye-opener. That’s where I learned the term “air jail”. Say, your cat takes off with a piece of your food so you hold him in the air and limit his movement, as a sort of punishment. That’s air jail. (NOTE: I would never do this, nor would Cuddles put up with it!)
I’m not saying it’s easy to accept the evolution of long-held beliefs when it comes to words and their meanings. When the word unique was first redefined as rare instead of one-of-a-kind, I had an existential crisis. But if I can get over it, others can too. It doesn’t mean we have to adopt any old slang that comes along. But we do need to accept that the Queen’s English might no longer be referring to Elizabeth, but Latifah.
5 thoughts on “The Latest in Word Nerd News”
As my communications professor said to us back in the early 80’s, “words don’t have meaning, people do”.
The language has to evolve, it has to be a living thing, or it will die. If the grammar scolds had their way, we would all be speaking like characters in a play by Shakespeare.
I hate how “unique” no longer means “singular.” It’s now a synonym for “special” and I cannot stand it. But that’s what the hive mind has decided, for better or worse.
The worth of English is its durability and capacity for taking on new meanings. It is like a virus that adapts.
In a hundred years, English will still be spoken — but those of who who were born in the 20th century might not recognize how words from today are used by our descendants. As it should be.
This would be a good topic for the podcast (I haven’t listened to this week’s show so forgive me if you and Erin have already tackled it and I am catching up).
We have not. But we should! Thanks, Dan. You are unique in my world (Ha, ha, see what I did there?!)
We’ve become TikTok petfluencer watching and sharing addicts in my family. Sharing our favourite goofy videos connects us constantly.