Our Vocabulary Just Keeps Growing!

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Since Oxford Dictionaries chose “post-truth” as its word of the year for 2016, I’ve been checking on what other new words have entered the dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) updates its entries four times a year, in March, June, September, and December. In the latest update (March 2017), they report adding 500 words, phrases, or “senses of words” to the dictionary—which could add up to as many as 2000 a year, or more! How many of these words will I know or recognize—or want to learn?


As the OED’s Katherine Connor Martin explains:

In keeping with the OED’s broad scope, the list of new entries include such disparate items as hate-watch, a 21st-century verb meaning ‘to watch (a television programme, etc.) in a spirit of mockery, as a form of entertainment’; pogonophobia, a jocular term for a strong dislike of beards that was coined in 1857 but may be more relevant than ever given the current proliferation of barbigerous hipsters; and heliopause, the astronomical term for the very outer edge of the solar system beyond which the solar wind is undetectable, a boundary traversed by the touch of humanity for the first time in 2012, when the Voyager 1 spacecraft crossed it to enter interstellar space.

Who knew “barbigerous”? I certainly didn’t, though I intend to use the word as often as I can now, as in referring to the Houston Rockets’ James Harden as “both a barbigerous and a dangerous player.”

One of my favorite additions this time around is “sticky-outy,” about which the OED says:Percy Grainger

The charmingly colloquial adjective sticky-outy means ‘that protrudes or sticks out’, elaborating upon the form of the synonymous earlier word sticky-out by adding an additional –y. The OED’s first citation comes from a letter written by the Australian composer and pianist Percy Grainger to his mother in 1921, lamenting ‘My hair has taken a wild fit, all sticky-outy in ends.’ Indeed, Grainger’s hair was notable for its sticky-outiness, as photographs of him from this period attest.

(Check out Grainger’s music here!)

Other new terms include “genericide,” which indicates a trademark term that becomes generic for its product, as “Kleenex” to refer to any tissue, and “skitch,” which refers to “holding on to the back of a moving vehicle so as to be pulled along while riding on a wheeled device like a skateboard or bicycle.” If you want to read about the other 490+ additions, you can find the whole list at “New words list March 2017.”


Or you can check out Dennis Baron’s most recent post on his Web of Language blog, “Dictionaries are Trending.” I look forward to Baron’s postings and always learn from them (and often get a good laugh as well). In this post, Baron tells us that “Dictionaries are kicking a** and taking names” and citing this tweet from editors of Merrriam-Webster.

Tweet from Merriam-Webster editor: "If you get on the bad side of @KoryStamper and me, we WILL make snarky anagrams out of your name." @SteveKleinedler

For a long time, I’ve thought of librarians as heroes, given their support of fair use, their refusal to disclose the names of people who check out books, and their willingness to tell truth to power. Now I plan to add dictionary editors: Who would have thought?


Credit: Public Domain

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.