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Thursday, April 20, 2017

From 'F-Bomb' To 'Photobomb,' How The Dictionary Keeps Up With English

In 2017 alone, Merriam-Webster added more than 1,000 words to its dictionary. Noah Webster himself might have struggled to define these new English terms — such asbinge-watch, humblebrag, photobomb, NSFW, truther, face-palm and listicle.

But language is a "living thing," says lexicographer Kory Stamper, an associate editor at Merriam-Webster — and it's constantly shifting in use and meaning.

"A lot of times people assume that English as we speak it is something that was curated maybe by some dudes in frilly shirts back in the 1700s," Stamper explains. "But in fact, a language is ... always influenced by the people who come in and speak it or come in and conquer it."

Stamper's new book, Word by Word, describes the painstaking process of keeping the dictionary up to date. Five years ago, for instance, Merriam-Webster added the term f-bomb to its pages — an addition that reflected, Stamper says, the term's widespread, sustained and meaningful use in society.

"People assume that ... there's boundaries set around [the English language], and that all the good stuff is on the inside and everything on the outside is bad or not worth using," she says. "But it's all worth using, and all of it is required to make the language flourish."


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