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Published: Friday, 10/14/2005

Webster's words must stand the test of time

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

There's something missing from the new Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.

It's got no bling.

No bling-bling, either.

But maybe next year.

When the dictionary-makers in Springfield, Mass., recently announced all the new words they added this year - things like "chick flick," "civil union," and "brain freeze" - there were, of course, some that didn't make the cut.

These runners-up will be carefully watched in the future, according to Arthur Bicknell, senior publicist for Merriam-Webster.

"The things that they're looking at are 'bling' and 'metrosexual' and other things of that nature," he said.

Read between the lines and you know what to do: Ring in the next year with some bling and put on your flashiest, gaudiest jewelry. Metrosexuals of the world unite (while wearing neat, tasteful clothes and designer hygiene products).

See, before any word gets introduced into the dictionary, it has to prove its staying power and have widespread publication. That usually takes about five years, Mr. Bicknell said, but another addition this year, SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, made it in less than that due to its role in current events.

For the Macarena - remember that dance from the '90s? - it could be much, much longer.

"It doesn't look like it's staying around much, except as a trivia note," Mr. Bicknell said.

As editors begin another year of trawling through everything from newspapers to soup labels to menus, here are a few other words they may want to stay on the lookout for:

●Fo' shizzle: If rap star Snoop

Dogg can use this phrase, meaning "for sure," in a commercial with ex-Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca, so can the rest of us.

●Wolphin: A liger - a mix between a lion and a tiger - is already in some dictionaries, so how about adding this creature, a rare hybrid that's a cross between a bottlenose dolphin and a false killer whale? As Napoleon Dynamite would say, "It's pretty much my favorite animal."

●Man date: The New York Times ran a whole story earlier this year dedicated to navigating the potential perils of the man date - two heterosexual men socializing without the crutch of business or sports - so it has to be legit.

●TomKat: C'mon, you know we had to include this one. It refers to the combined celebrity identity of power couple Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise.

Why stop there? If William Shakespeare could make up words, so can Melissa Cluley of West Toledo.

Maybe, then, it was a stroke of genius when one day she accidentally combined the words "afraid" and "scared" into the totally new: aferd. (She's, uh, flexible on the spelling).

Courtney Brown of Old Orchard prefers her word: conversate.

"I always say I'm gonna conversate," she said while conversating with a reporter.

Dre Day, a poet from the central city, said he dreamed up the word "twoderful" to mean "twice as good as wonderful," though his originality isn't always appreciated.

"A lot of words I use they say I shouldn't use because they're not words. Then I say that I'm an artist," he said.

Then there's Anna Kolin, who credits a whole town with adopting a pseudoword.

"If you ask anybody in Ida, Michigan, 'broughten' is a word," she said. As in, "Where's the package? I must have broughten it."

The practice of putting together dictionaries in England dates to the 17th century, according to Samir Abu-Absi, a linguist at the University of Toledo. Originally, the idea was to collect hard words that the average reader would not know, but it evolved into having a comprehensive listing of all the possible words in the language.

Inevitably, this led to controversy about whether certain nonstandard or uncultivated words should be included. Like in 1961, Mr. Abu-Absi said, when a Merriam-Webster's dictionary included every English teacher's nemesis: ain't.

"Many of the critics thought that the editors of the dictionary were either ignorant - they used the word 'incompetent' - or they were subversive in the sense that they were trying to undermine the language, lower the standards," he said.

Even so, the fact remains that the language continues to change.

"This is not a process you can control," he said. "It's not a process you can stop."

Which is maybe where someone like Brad Leone of Hart Associates can help. If someone came to the local public relations firm trying to get a certain word in the dictionary, he and his co-workers have all kinds of ideas for getting the word used more often.

You could get a spokesman, use it in a slogan or advertising campaign - everyone knows Fahrvergnuegen or "driving pleasure" from those old Volkswagen commercials - or start writing letters to the editor using it. Anything to get it in print, he said.

Maybe even a dance marathon to call attention to the plight of the Macarena.

On second thought ...

"Something tells me that the Macarena has seen better days," he said.

Contact Ryan E. Smith at:

ryansmith@theblade.com

or 419-724-6103.



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