It’s that time again, when more words are added to the dictionary. Merriam-Webster just updated their list, adding 370 new words and phrases. The beautiful thing about language is how it expands and evolves. As the world changes and new inventions and technology emerge, new words and phrases become eligible to be added. If 370 words seems like a lot, it’s nothing on last year’s 455 words that were added. Some of the words added last year include: coworking, hard pass, cancel culture, and hygge. A lot of the new words and phrases come from social media slang, or different pop culture references. There are also words relating to the COVID-19 pandemic as well. So how do new words end up in the dictionary? Let’s take a look.
How new words get added
There are several steps that Merriam Webster uses to determine what gets in. First, it has to be used by many people who all agree that it means the same thing. So just because you come up with a word that you and your friends use, doesn’t mean that it’s getting in. Think “fetch” in Mean Girls. “Stop trying to make fetch happen!” But I digress. Next comes the work of dictionary editors who read A LOT. They look at lots of different publications with a wide national readership. They look for words and phrases that have gone mainstream, and words that start as specialized vocabulary but become common over time.
Glad you asked. Next, each word becomes a citation and gets put in a searchable database. It includes both new words, and old words that are used in new ways. They have 17 million citations! They’re looking for three criteria: frequent use, widespread use, and meaningful use. That’s why when you see an added word like “yeet,” which was popular years ago is just getting in. It has to prove itself. Personally, I’m not sure that it has, but that’s just me.
The final decision
That decision gets reviewed and decided on by more senior editors. But there’s no committee, no meetings, or public input. And if a word doesn’t make it, there’s always next year. It gets reviewed for the next edition.
Here are some of the new words added this year. All words and definitions provided by Merriam Webster.