16 Feb '16

The Expansion of the English Language

In 1828 Noah Webster published An American Dictionary of the English Language, which quickly became the standard of lexicography, arguably surpassing the seminal work of Samuel Johnson's magnum opus of 1755. Webster's dictionary contained 70,000 entries that incorporated many distinctively American words. He believed that the willingness to innovate and alter language would greatly improve linguistics by keeping it on pace with cultural dynamics. George and Charles Merriam bought the unsold copies of the 1841 edition of An American Dictionary of the English Language, Corrected and Enlarged after Webster's death in 1843. The G. & C. Merriam Company (renamed Merriam-Webster Inc. in 1982) also secured the rights to create revised editions of that work. The first Merriam-Webster dictionary was issued on September 24, 1847. It was the beginning of a publishing tradition that has continued uninterrupted to this day.

True to the vision of Noah Webster, the company makes revisions and additions to their dictionaries every year. Many words may be commonly used in public but are still not 'defined' by the dictionary since being officially recognized can be a lengthy process. The editorial staff at Merriam-Webster constantly scan newspapers, blogs, websites, books, journals and magazines for usage and context of words being used frequently and extensively. These pieces of evidence recorded with full source and context information are called citations. Merriam-Webster currently has approximately 17,000,000 citations. The use of the words under consideration is monitored to ensure that the word is not a passing trend but a prevalent and recognizable part of dialogue and correspondence. Accumulated evidence of a word's usage is the main criterion for being included in a Merriam-Webster dictionary.

In 2015 the company added more than 1,700 entries, and existing entries have expanded by more than 700 new senses. The vast expansion of words reflects the significant effect that technology—especially online connectivity and social media—has had on the English language. The following is a sample of words that have been formally recognized and defined.

Net neutrality: (n.) the idea, principle or requirement that Internet service providers should or must treat all Internet data as the same regardless of its kind, source or destination.

Meme: (n.) an idea, behaviour, style or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.

Clickbait: (n.) something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink, especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest.

Emoji: (n.) any of various small images, symbols or icons used in text fields in electronic communication (as in text messages) to express the emotional attitude of the writer, convey information succinctly, communicate a message playfully without using words, etc.

Sharing economy: (n.) economic activity that involves individuals buying or selling usually temporary access to goods or services, especially as arranged through an online company or organization. (see Uber and Airbnb)

Dark money: (n.) money contributed to non-profit organizations (especially those classified as social welfare organizations and business leagues) that is used to fund political campaigns without the disclosure of the donors' identities.

Jegging: (n.) a legging that is designed to resemble a tight-fitting pair of denim jeans and is made of a stretchable fabric — usually plural.

More words can be found in the accompanying posting: Some New Words for 2016

As a preview to 2016, Merriam Webster announced that it will be adding the word 'athleisure' to its 2016 list. Athleisure is defined as "casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and for general use". As an indication of how long it takes some words to get into the famed dictionary, the word athleisure was first used in 1976 in an advertisement promoting "Athleisure Shoes by Dunham" in the El Paso Herald-Post. The ubiquity of the new fashion—from the Kardashian's fashionable yoga pants to Vladimir Putin's $1500 sweat pants has apparently put the number of required citations through the threshold of linguistic acceptance.

The world is changing quickly: it will be interesting to see if the English lexicon maintains such a rapid pace.






About The Author

An accomplished author, Jason brings a diverse skill set to MKTG. He originally started at the company as a research assistant and, after spending time overseas, returned to the team in 2008 as Manager of Special Projects. In his current role, Jason oversees MKTG’s special projects, with a particular focus on employee development, training, multimedia translation requests and other large-scale or special-skill opportunities.