Embrace Your Inner Wordsmith with New Edition of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary


Go ahead, treat yourself. Check out the latest “chick flick,” get a “bikini wax” or enjoy an ice cream — but be careful about “brain freeze.”

If any of that isn’t clear, it might be wise to consult the latest edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, which formally defines words that have taken root in American conversation.

Those terms are joined by 15 other new entries that make up the 1,664 pages of the newly published book. So if you’re not interested in movies meant to appeal to women, discreet hair removal procedures or running the risk of a sudden shooting pain in the head caused by very cold food, maybe there’s another endeavor to catch your fancy.

Try “steganography,” the “art or practice of concealing a message, image, or file within another message, image, or file.” That may not be the latest craze, but it’s an activity that caught the attention of Merriam-Webster’s lexicographers.

“We have editors who spend a part of each day reading magazines and newspapers, looking for evidence of how words are being more commonly used,” said John Morse, Merriam-Webster’s president and publisher. “We’re looking for words that show up in the contexts that the average adult might encounter.”

The new words reflect changes and developments in American society. You could try your hand at being a “cybrarian” (a person who finds, collects, and manages information available on the Internet,) or as a “hospitalist” (“a physician who specializes in treating hospitalized patients of other physicians in order to minimize the number of hospital visits by other physicians.”)

The Springfield-based dictionary publisher has an ongoing list of about 17 million entries it monitors. Every year, a few of them make it into print, followed by a succinct definition.

It takes about 10 years for a promising word to get into the dictionary from the time it first gets noticed. But some have a speedy rise to Merriam-Webster legitimacy, depending on the urgency of their meaning and impact

Among this year’s fastest climbers is “SARS,” the acronym for the severe acute respiratory syndrome that began making headlines just two years ago with an outbreak in Asia.

“That was enough of a public health concern to get it in the dictionary right away,” Morse said. “Now, one of two things could happen. Either we’ll never hear about SARS again, and if so, I’ve wasted three lines of type in the dictionary. Or it will come back, and everyone will go to the dictionary in a time of need to see how SARS is defined.”

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