It’s funny how the English language is constantly evolving. But, as language experts have been asserting for ages, “words are arbitrary symbols and have no meaning in themselves.” If you're curious just how many there are, check out our companion article on how many words are in the English language.
How Words are Added to the Dictionary
A word starts off as a quip or witticism and then becomes colloquial. If used long enough, it blends into the language and transforms into a legit word—one that merits a space in the dictionary.
Every year, new words are being coined and new definitions added to already existing words. In January 2018, The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) announced that it has added more than 1,100 words, senses, and sub-entries.
As of March 2018, more than 700 new words, senses, and sub-entries were included as well—increasing the number of entries to almost 2,000 (note: the OED does updates on a quarterly basis).
The Oxford English Dictionary contains more than 829,000 words, senses, and compounds. Experts in various specific fields are consulted by OED’s researchers before deciding if a neologism should be added to Oxford’s list.
In order to qualify, a word needs to be used for “a reasonable amount of time” and in numerous independent examples.
Top Entries of 2018
Among 2018’s top new entries is “mansplain” which means “(of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.” While “mansplain” was practically non-existent ten years ago, the concept is now a generally-accepted term.
Another new coinage is “hangry” which is defined as “bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger.” Kinda reminds you of Snickers’ TV commercials, doesn’t it?
Here’s an interesting fact about this portmanteau (“hangry” is a combination of two words—hungry and angry): it was cited in a 1956 article in American Imago (a psychoanalytic journal “that describes various kinds of deliberate and accidental wordplay”) where “hangry” was mentioned in a colloquy about contractions and elisions.
But what’s probably more intriguing is the newly-added definition of the word “snowflake.”
Back in 1983, “snowflake” had a more positive connotation. It’s a scientifically known fact that each snowflake possesses a unique and unrepeated pattern or appearance. Because of this, it has been used to imply a person’s (especially kids) distinctive qualities and capabilities.
Nowadays, the insinuation of “snowflake” has become less flattering. This is due to the prominence of the word as a disparaging term in social media. The added definition now states: “a person mockingly characterized as overly sensitive or easily offended, esp. one said to consider himself or herself entitled to special treatment or consideration.”
The Rise of the Self
We’ve gotten accustomed to “selfie” since 2014 but now we have to live with OED’s addition of “selfy,” which, ironically, has been recognized since the 17th century in Scotland to mean “self-centred” or “selfish” (and this is exactly how it is defined in the OED.
New entries with “self” as prefix were also recently added: self-deport, self-determinism, self-identified, self-published, and self-radicalization.
And while we’re on the subject of “self”-related words, let’s not forget to include “me time” in the mix. Its definition is not as negative though: “time devoted to doing what one wants, typically on one's own, as opposed to working or doing things for others, considered as important in reducing stress or restoring energy.”
In fact, OED says that “me time” “suggests a healthy form of psychological self-care.”
Some Words on Amusement
On a lighter note, “Tom Swifty” has also been added to OED’s list, while “swag” has earned a new definition, thanks to Jay-Z. This is the fifth citation of the word that has been attributed to the American rapper.
“Tom Swifty” is defined as “a humorous sentence typically consisting of reported speech attributed to a speaker (frequently ‘Tom’), followed by an adverb which relates punningly to what has been said.”
Someone with “swag” has “bold self-assurance in style or manner; an air of great self-confidence or superiority” as an additional definition.
Other amusing new entries include “Jackie O” (which does not refer to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, but to her sense of fashion), “tomoz” (an informal alteration of “tomorrow”) and “hippotherapy” (which means “the use of horse riding as a therapeutic or rehabilitative treatment, esp. as a means of improving coordination, balance, and strength”). Meanwhile, more serious words (and definitions) have also been included:
“Ransomware” is now “a type of malicious software designed to block access to applications or files on a computer system until a sum of money is paid.”
“Deglobalization” is “the process of making something less global and more regional in nature, focus, impact, etc.; esp. the reversal or decline of globalization, or its effects.”
“Titanian” has acquired a third homograph definition: “of or situated on Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons.”
Grammarly and its counterparts must be in a mad scramble to update their spelling, grammar, and vocabulary tools because of these new developments.
But they’re not the only ones—as a writer, you also need to be aware of these changes lest you end up being misconstrued despite having good intentions.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Perhaps they can—if you’re updated on their new definitions!
A complete and updated list of these latest additions to the Oxford English Dictionary can be found here.