2009-10-08 / Sam Bari

The word wizards have done it again

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

The word wizards of Merriam- Webster dictionary fame warned us in July that the new hot 100- word list would be published this fall. And, true to their promise, the latest version of the Webster Collegiate is hot off the presses complete with the new 100 additions.

The question of the day is: Do we really need 100 new words to communicate more accurately?

Not that long ago, the annual word addition was under 10 words. I remember when the addition of “ain’t” as a real word was ill received by the literati, and its introduction to the language made front-page headlines.

New technology, medicine and science are expected to introduce new terminology. Thus, we get terms like avian influenza, biodiesel and gastric bypass. Although these terms have been in use for some time, official admittance into the language is not a fast process.

One would think that words of this nature would be fast tracked into the working vocabulary because they significantly influence our lives. Sadly, that is not the case.

The words that get fast tracked are terms like “frenemy,” a friend who is really an enemy, and “mouse potato,” a person who spends too much time at their computer. Pop culture seems to rule in the let’s legitimize street jargon, slang, clichés and compound words that are glued together from sheer laziness, so the ignorant can sound intelligent.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have words like “locavore,” one who eats locally-grown foods, and “sock puppet,” a legitimate term that referred to a poor kid’s toy, but now has an entirely new meaning. In today’s speech, a “sock puppet” is a false online identity used for deceptive purposes. Locavore and sock puppet are terms created by the educated that have too much time on their hands.

Many words are coined by inventive journalists who are limited to word counts and attempt to economize by coining terms they hope will give them notoriety. One of those words is “prepone,” meaning the act of arranging for an event to take place earlier than originally planned — the opposite of postpone. It didn’t make the list this year, but watch for it in the near future.

Then we have the words that attempt to define the human condition. Terms like “drama queen,” (yes it made the list), meaning a person given to often excessively emotional performances or reactions, has been on the list for consideration since 1979. After the masses beat the term to death, the board of word wizards gave in and legitimized it.

They also made “unibrow,” meaning a single continuous brow resulting from the growing together of eyebrows, a real word. It’s been around since 1959. I’m sure Scrabble players everywhere will be delighted.

The hot-100 list is easy to come by. Purchase a new dictionary or search for the list online — it’s free. Webster has another list that not many people know about. This is a list of words and terms submitted by the public for future consideration.

Some of these words are rather inventive. Many are entertaining. Some are just plain stupid. Judge for yourself. Here are a few examples:

• Global weirding (noun): Unpredictable changes in climate and esp. extremes of temperature and weather patterns as a result of human activity.

• Skillage (noun): Exceptional skill.

• NPA (abbreviation): No permanent address.

• Yummify (verb): To make food more delicious.

• Dolphinology (noun): The study of dolphins.

• Mustardize (verb): To add mustard.

• Medicinary (noun): A store offering natural medicines, vitamins, herbs, etc.

• FWB (abbreviation): Friend with benefits.

• Beautarian (noun): One employed to apply cosmetics, prepare wardrobe or style hair.

• Folder (verb): To put something (as a digital document or file) into a digital folder.

• Fumblitis (noun): A marked tendency to fumble easily or frequently.

• Bellignorant (adjective): Belligerent and ignorant.

• Religiocentric (adjective): Based on or from the perspective of religion.

• Boomeritis (noun): Injury or pain resulting from exercise among baby boomers.

• Greenify (verb): To make less harmful to the environment.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still struggling to learn a small percentage of the 470,000 entries in the old Webster’s unabridged. I do not believe we need that many new words to effectively communicate in a system we can’t understand.

Return to top