Online dictionary reflects changing times

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Scrabble’s about to get a lot more amazeballs. The batch of cray new words added to Oxford Dictionaries Online is a hot mess of definitions that capture the zeitgeist of today in a baller way. Hot diggity!

If none of this hip lingo sounds familiar, it’s time to read up: Oxford Dictionaries Online has added more than 400 words and phrases to its dictionary, including words such as pogonophobia (a fear of beards), hexacopter (a six-rotor helicopter that’s unmanned) and mansplain (a verb used to describe the act of explaining something in a condescending manner, usually a man to a woman). Amazeballs (extremely good), cray (crazy), hot mess (something that is out of control), baller (successful) and hot diggity (used to express excitement) are all on the list.

The list, updated four times a year, consists of words that are chosen based on the Oxford Corpus, a database that finds words in various places on the Internet.

If a word is used frequently enough and in a variety of places, it’s eligible to appear in the online dictionary.

The entire list of new words is available at oxforddictionaries.com.

Some words have been commonly used for years but are just gaining popularity on the Internet. Bare (exposed) and fratty (the characteristics of a college fraternity) have been around for a while. Olinguito was coined in 2013 in reference to a Colombia- and Ecuador-based tiny, tree-dwelling, nocturnal mammal that belongs to the raccoon family.

Some words quickly gained prominence online because of the hyperconnected (also a new word on the list) quality of the Internet.

Slang words that once were limited to small groups of people can take off in minutes and percolate around the world.

The word e-cig, short for electronic cigarette, gained popularity because electronic cigarettes gained popularity.

“So there’s lots of different trajectories, and some words have a slow burn,” said Katherine Martin, head of US Dictionaries at Oxford University Press.

It’s no surprise that many of the new words on the list refer to technology.

Live-tweet (tweeting while an event is taking place), binge-watch (watching multiple episodes of a television show in one sitting) and clickbait (links on the Internet that lure readers with provocative content) are all on the list.

“As computer technology permeates into the mainstream of the culture, it’s gonna reflect in the language,” said Elliot Halpern, a linguistics student at the University of Pittsburgh. “We’re sort of hitting a new generation that has values and experiences, and one of the experiences is the Internet, and these words started as slang and have been accepted as mainstream discourse.”

“One of the things that’s changed is in the old days the print process took a really long time for a print dictionary,” she said.“There was also the factor of a print dictionary having limited space. The online dictionary is infinite, so we can publish things faster ... and slang spreads faster because of the global nature of the Internet.”

Having words in a dictionary, strange as they are, validates a concept and provides a reference point in history.

“Perhaps in 25 years — I’m not sure about YOLO [you only live once] — but clickbait might be accepted as just another concept,” Mr. Halpern said.

The online dictionary is competing with other online sources of reference, but Ms. Martin believes it uses rigor and technology required to provide the best product.

“We’re proficient writers of definitions, so we provide a consistent approach to language, so it’s a different kind of resource. We’re trying to record as many possible definitions as used today for people who are on our website,” she said.

Her favorite new word is in silico (experiments or research done by computer simulation).

“[It’s] not a sexy slang word, but it’s coming from Latin, and it’s a new Latin formation [that] isn’t brought into English too much. ... I love the inventiveness of that,” she said. “It’s a more serious take that shows another way that English has to change as our world changes, and technology is a driving force of that.”

Kate Mishkin: kmishkin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1352.


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