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Adding New Words in a Dictionary is Not a Simple Process

Adding New Words in a Dictionary is Not a Simple Process
on December, 03 2014

New words get included in the dictionary all the time, but the process of adding new words is not that simple. Who makes the decision and what processes do they use in making the decision on whether a word should be included or not?

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is globally recognized as the authority when it comes to the English language. Let us explore how the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary make their assessment.

Research Programs

The Oxford University Press uses two language research programs to search for new words. The Oxford English Corpus sources entire documents from the web, while the Reading Program collects electronic extracts from various types of writing, such as newspapers, magazines, scientific journals, popular fiction, and lyrics of songs.

This comes from the contributions of a worldwide network of readers. They are always on the lookout for language changes, and instances of appearance and usage of new words and their meanings.

Tracking and Choosing

Their lexicographers and editors continuously monitor these two programs to track new words. When they have substantial evidence that a word is being used in several sources by many writers, the word becomes a candidate for inclusion in the dictionary, whether in the printed or online version. The words must be important, significant and will endure over a long period.

Evidence of Use

In the past, words added to the dictionary were those that the editors thought would be useful, even without much evidence. Today, the new words have to be recorded in online sources or in print before they can become candidates for inclusion. Everything has to be analyzed, whether it came from a recorded conversation, television, TV scripts, or Internet messages.

Timeframe Plays a Role in New Dictionary Words

In previous years, the Oxford University Press lexicographers and editors normally wait from two to five years before they will make the decision if words merit inclusion in the printed version.

It is not the same for the digital version since new terms can be picked up, accepted and used by a wider audience in a short time. People then expect that these new words that have been creating a buzz are available in the dictionaries, which makes the job of the lexicographers that much harder.

Invented Terms

There will be times when people send the Oxford University Press some words that they have invented themselves and inquire whether these could be added or not. Unfortunately, the lexicographers have to draw a line somewhere.

For them, they still add new words that have been widely used for a number of years and these should still pass their assessment process, based on the citations and evidence culled from their massive databases.

Electronic Version

The first electronic version of the Oxford English Dictionary became available in 2000, and has been receiving about two million hits each month (as of April 2014) since then. The third edition of the dictionary, which is still in progress, will likely be an electronic version only, according to Nigel Portwood, the chief executive of Oxford University Press.

Addition of New Words to a Dictionary

The modern dictionaries are descriptive and the lexicographers now have more sources where they are able to gather words, particularly from the web. It is no longer prescriptive to keep out neologisms and slang in today's dictionaries.

In early September, the online version of the Oxford Dictionaries have added several new words, some of which are teenage and youth slang, such as:

  • Mansplaining – combination of man and explain; the tendency of some men to believe that they automatically know more about a topic and therefore have to explain to her something that she already knows, whether he is correct or not.
  • Side boob – the side part of the breasts of a woman, exposed by revealing clothes
  • Neckbeard – hair growing on a man's neck, usually as a result of poor grooming

It does not mean though that everything should be included. In printed form, the dictionary must contend with the cost and size of the publication and many will likely omit scientific and rare words. Still, the lexicographers have to wait for a considerable amount of time, to see if the word just encountered will endure and will be used widely.

Day Translations Team

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