Did you ever wonder how a word gets into the dictionary?
which words to include in the dictionary and to determine what they mean, dictionary
editors study the language to determine which words people use most often and how they use
||Each day most dictionary editors
devote an hour or two to reading books, newspapers, magazines, electronic publications --
in fact a cross-section of all kinds of published materials; in our office this activity
is called "reading and marking." The editors are looking for new words, new
meanings of existing words, evidence of variant spellings or inflected forms -- in short,
anything that might help in deciding if a word belongs in the dictionary, understanding
what it means, and determining typical usage. Any word of interest is marked, along with
surrounding context that offers insight into its form and use.
passages are then input into a computer system and stored both in machine-readable form
and on 3" x 5" slips of paper to create citations. Making the jump
from the citation file to the dictionary is a long process.
citation has the following elements:
- the word itself
- an example of the word used in context
- bibliographic information about the source from which the word
and example were taken
Merriam-Webster's citation files, which were begun in the
1880s, now contain nearly 15 million examples of words used in context and cover all
aspects of the English vocabulary. Citations are also available to editors in a searchable
text database (linguists call it a corpus) that includes 50,000,000 words drawn from a
great variety of sources.
The process begins with dictionary editors reviewing groups
of citations. Definers start by looking at citations covering a relatively small segment
of the alphabet -- for example gri- to gro- -- along with the entries from the dictionary
being reedited that are included within that alphabetical section. It is the definer's job
to determine which existing entries can remain essentially unchanged, which entries need
to be revised, which entries can be dropped, and which new entries should be added. In
each case, the definer decides on the best course of action by reading through the
citations and using the evidence in them to adjust entries or create new ones.
new word can be added to the dictionary, it must have enough citations to show that it is
widely used. But having a lot of citations is not enough; in fact, a large number of
citations might even make a word more difficult to define, because many citations show too
little about the meaning of a word to be helpful. A word may be rejected for entry into a
general dictionary if all of its citations come from a single source or if they are all
from highly specialized publications that reflect the jargon of experts within a single
included in a dictionary, a word must be used in a substantial number of citations that
come from a wide range of publications over a considerable period of time.
|Delivering information via
the Internet is the fastest way to make the latest information about language available.
John Morse, Publisher, Merriam-Webster
|Specifically, the word
must have enough citations to allow accurate judgments about its establishment, currency,
and meaning. The number and range of citations needed to add a word to the dictionary
varies. In rare cases, a word jumps onto the scene and is both instantly prevalent and
likely to last, as was the case in the 1980s with AIDS. In such a situation, the editors
determine that the word has become firmly established in a relatively short time and
should be entered in the dictionary, even though its citations may not span the wide range
of years exhibited by other words. The size and type of dictionary also affects how many
citations a word needs to gain admission.
abridged dictionary has fairly limited space, only the most commonly used words can be
entered; to get into that type of dictionary, a word must be supported by a significant
number of citations. But a large unabridged dictionary has room for many more words, so
terms with fewer citations can still be included.
TO LEARN MORE
ON THE BOOKSHELF:
Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (10th Edition)
Hardcover - 1699 pages / Mirriam Webster - (10th edition) 1998
The 1998 10th edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary marks the 100th
anniversary of this distinguished and popular reference standard.
Words into Type
Marjorie Skillin, Robert Malcom Gay / Hardcover - 585 pages / Prentice Hall - (3rd
This is the definitive text for questions of manuscript protocol, copyediting,
grammar, and usage. With its easy-to-use index and definitive explanations.
What's In A Word
Fascinating Stories Of More Than 350 Everyday Words And Phrases
by Webb B. Garrison / Paperback - 256 pages / Rutledge Hill Press; (June 12, 2000)
Here is a fascinating and humorous encyclopedia of more than three hundred words
and phrases and how they have taken on new meanings over time. It is an informative
reference book for the whole family.
ON THE WEB:
This site has lots to do besides just looking up words.
Allows you to search for multiple definitions of a word from a variety of online
You can look up words in online dictionaries and thesauri by entering a URL or paragraph
and clicking on the words. Supports many languages and translations.
An endangered language is a language headed for extinction. It is a language without
monolingual speakers, people who speak only that language.They will provide you with a
list of the various foundations around the world that are trying to stem the tide of
language loss and offer you an opportunity to help.
WHERE TO FIND:
Merriam-Webster's 11th Edition Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus
Software / CD-ROM / WIN & MAC / Fogware Publishing
/ Less than $20.00
Merriam-Webster's best-selling Collegiate® Dictionary, built on the foundation Noah
Webster laid, moves into the 21st century. This powerful computer reference tool lets
families, professionals, students, educators, and word game lovers explore and use the
language as never before. Contains two products in one - the full text of
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate® Dictionary with 214,000 definitions, and
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate® Thesaurus, with 340,000 synonyms, antonyms, and more.
- Earth has over 6800 known languages.
Sources in BOLD Type
page revised May 27, 2005.