Is Merriam-Webster its own worst frenemy?

60% of new words in 2009 Collegiate were born before today’s college students

‘New’ words average age — 29 years

Austin, TX July 16, 2009, (MetaNewswire) – Is Merriam-Webster its own worst frenemy? The answer to that question can perhaps be answered by the upcoming release of its Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition with the addition of almost 100 new words and word meanings (or senses).  The average of these “new words” is twenty-nine years, according to Merriam-Webster’s itself.

The ‘new’ words (with their dates of first usage) include:

New Word or Term and First Usage

  • Carbon footprint 1999
  • Flash mob 1977
  • Green-collar 1990
  • Locavore 2005
  • Memory foam 1987
  • Missalette 1977
  • Reggaeton 2002
  • Sock puppet 1959
  • Waterboarding 2004
  • Webisode 1997

These are ‘new’ words only insofar as they were never included in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, but on average, the words were coined more than 29 years ago (according to M-W’s own definitions). This compares with the average age of today’s college students in the mid-twenties (even with the recent shift to older students).

On the web, ‘waterboarding’ has some 2,000,000 references, ‘webisode’ about 5,000,000 and ‘sock puppet‘ some half million (according to Google). Last year ‘dark energy’ was added to the Collegiate Dictionary some ten years after it had become the subject of much scientific, philiosophical and popular debate. (It had about 10,000,000 references at the time.)

“This is perhaps why students are evermore turning to online resources to understand current affairs and class materials.The reality of today’s Internet-based communications means that new English-language words are appearing and being adopted at an ever-quickening pace,” said Paul JJ Payack, President and Chief Word Analyst of the Global Language Monitor. “It is entirely possible some of these students heard or even used some of these words while they were still in grammar school”.

To celebrate the coming of age of English as the first, true, global language, The Global Language Monitor announced the 1,000,000th word to enter the English language on June 10, 2009. GLM estimates that a new word appears every 98 minutes, generated by the 1.5 billion people who now use English as a first, second or business language.

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