Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is already a ginormous book, but thanks to a gaggle of new words, it’s getting even bigger.
The Associated Press
It was a ginormous year for the wordsmiths at Merriam-Webster. Along with embracing the adjective that combines “gigantic” and “enormous,” the dictionary publishers also got into Bollywood, sudoku and speed dating.
But their interest in India’s motion-picture industry, number puzzles and trendy ways to meet people was all meant for a higher cause: updating the company’s collegiate dictionary, which goes on sale this fall with about 100 newly added words.
As always, the yearly list gives meaning to the latest lingo in pop culture, technology and current events.
There’s “crunk,” a style of Southern rap music; the abbreviated “DVR,” for digital video recorder; and “IED,” shorthand for the improvised explosive devices that have become common in the war in Iraq.
If it sounds as though Merriam-Webster is dropping its buttoned-down image with too much talk of “smackdowns” (contests in entertainment wrestling) and “telenovelas” (Latin-American soap operas), consider it also is adding “gray literature” (hard-to-get written material) and “microgreen” (a shoot of a standard salad plant).
No matter how odd some of the words might seem, the dictionary editors say each has the promise of sticking around in the American vocabulary.
“There will be linguistic conservatives who will turn their nose up at
a word like ‘ginormous,’ ” said John Morse, Merriam-Webster’s president. “But it’s become a part of our language. It’s used by professional writers in mainstream publications. It clearly has staying power.”
One of those naysayers is Allan Metcalf, a professor of English at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., and the executive secretary of the American Dialect Society.
“A new word that stands out and is ostentatious is going to sink like a lead balloon,” he said. “It might enjoy a fringe existence.”
But Merriam-Webster traces ginormous back to 1948, when it appeared in a British dictionary of military slang. And in the past several years, its use has become, well, ginormous.
Visitors to the Springfield-based dictionary publisher’s Web site picked “ginormous” as their favorite word that’s not in the dictionary in 2005, and Merriam-Webster editors have spotted it in countless newspaper and magazine articles since 2000.
That’s essentially the criteria for making it into the collegiate dictionary — if a word shows up often enough in mainstream writing, the editors consider defining it.
But as editor Jim Lowe puts it: “Nobody has to use ‘ginormous’ if they don’t want to.”
For the record, he doesn’t.
How does a word get in?
* Merriam-Webster editors monitor how often new words appear in published material
* Words of interest are marked and citations are made and stored
* A word must be used in a substantial number of citations that come from a wide range of publications over a considerable period of time
* Groups of citations are reviewed and “definers” determine which new entries should be added
*What’s a crunk? We asked a few area residents what they thought these new words might mean.
Name: Marlena Hursh
She said: “You’re not completely green, just a little green ... in environmental terms.”
Webster says: A shoot of a standard salad plant (as celery or arugula)
Name: Angela Baker
She said: “I always imagined that they combined the ‘C’ from crazy and the ‘runk’ from drunk to form crazy drunk.”
Webster says: A style of Southern rap music featuring repetitive chants and rapid dance rhythms
Name: Chris Kotarsky
City: North Ridgeville
He said: “Rapid propelled grenade. I read a war book last year that had that abbreviation in it.”
Webster says: A critical or disastrous situation created by a powerful concurrence of factors
* Speed Dating
Name: Frank Gabbert
City: Avon Lake
He said: “Using the Internet to find a date? You know, like in a chat room or something.”
Webster says: An event at which each participant converses individually with all the prospective partners for a few minutes in order to select those with whom dates are desired
Name: Mary Ann Goral
She said: “I think that’s what you do when you play a kid’s computer game. You smackdown.”
Webster says: (1) The act of knocking down or bringing down an opponent (2) A contest in entertainment wrestling (3) A decisive defeat (4) A confrontation between rivals or competitors
Agnolotti: Pasta in the form of semicircular cases containing a filling (as of meat, cheese, or vegetables)
Bollywood: The motion-picture industry in India
Chaebol: A family-controlled industrial conglomerate in South Korea
DVR: Digital video recorder
Flex-cuff: A plastic strip that can be fastened as a restraint around a person’s wrists or ankles
Ginormous: Extremely large, humongous
Gray literature: Written material (as a report) that is not published commercially or is not generally accessible
Hardscape: Structures (as fountains, benches, or gazebos) that are incorporated into a landscape
IED: Improvised explosive device
Nocebo: A harmless substance that when taken by a patient is associated with harmful effects due to negative expectations or the psychological condition of the patient
Perfect storm: A critical or disastrous situation created by a powerful concurrence of factors
Snowboardcross: A snowboard race that includes jumps and turns
Sudoku: A puzzle in which several numbers are to be filled into a 9x9 grid of squares so that every row, every column, and every 3x3 box contains the numbers 1 through 9
Telenovela: A soap opera produced in and televised in or from many Latin-American countries
Viewshed: The natural environment that is visible from one or more viewing points