Dictionary 2.0: Wordnik.com Creates New Way to Find Words


Sokolowski said one noteworthy new addition to Merriam-Webster's 11th edition this week is "fist bump." It's commonly used in sports when players congratulate one another, and the term really picked up steam in 2008 after President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama affectionately tapped fists onstage in St. Paul, Minn., during the Democratic nomination.

At this point, Sokolowski says, "The whole culture has adopted this gesture."

New Words Added to Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Another recent addition of note: "parkour," defined as "the sport of traversing environmental obstacles by running, climbing, or leaping rapidly and efficiently." The latter gained popularity in viral videos, and was later parodied on NBC sitcom "The Office."

Before choosing the new words, 40 Merriam-Webster editors troll newspapers, books and websites, marking new words and looking new uses of old words.

"Over time that gives us a large database of citations of the word in use," Sokolowski said. "We follow this day after day, year after year, so we know which words are being used with increasing frequency by the U.S. public." In order for a word to make the cut, he added, its usage must increase in use over time, and enter culture "in a broad way."

Whether the word "bromance," defined as "a close nonsexual friendship between men," could (or should) be here to stay, is another discussion entirely.

Next year, Sokolowski said, Merriam-Webster is considering adding "millennial," "man cave" and "mashup."

When McKean wants to add a word, however, she can do it immediately. Traditional dictionaries need to change, she said, in order to stay relevant.

"Having a separate place where you go somewhere to look for a word is not the future," she said. "When you see a word why can't you just tap the word to get information about it?"

Wordnik is working on doing just that, McKean said, creating a layer over text that provides "free-range definitions" that live "out in the wild" of the Internet.

"The newer a word is the more likely you want to know about it," she said. "Every word has a chance to have real staying power in the English language. With Wordnik we want to give all these words an equal chance."

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