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New Words Added to the Oxford English Dictionary—Again!

The Oxford English Dictionary added new words again, and this update includes fun words such as "Tom Swifty." Will "levidrome" be next?

By
Mignon Fogarty,
February 1, 2018
Episode #606

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The cover of a Tom Swift book from which we get the Tom Swifty jokes

The headline for this article is something of a joke: New Words Added to the Oxford English Dictionary—Again! It’s a joke because I’m implying that it’s unusual for the dictionary to add new words, but the editors actually do it every quarter. But still I love reading the new words and thinking about them, and one of my all-time favorite Grammar Girl episodes is about how words get in the dictionary, so we’ll talk about them a bit today.

Why Do Dictionaries Add Words So Often?

Dictionaries add new words so often because people keep using new words. That’s the short version of how words get in the dictionary: if enough people use them, they get added. If you hear a word you don’t know or don’t understand, and you go to the dictionary to look it up, you want it to be there; so it makes sense for dictionaries to include words as they are used.

British Versus American Dictionaries

An interesting cultural difference that I learned about from Lynne Murphy, who has a great book coming out on the differences between American and British English called “The Prodigal Tongue,” is that Americans are much more likely than the British to view dictionaries as the authority on words, the language bible, so to speak, whereas British readers are more likely to view the dictionary as a book for word lovers.

Is ‘Levidrome’ the New ‘Fetch’?

Another recent news story also highlights how words get in the dictionary. A Canadian boy named Levi Budd came up with the word “levidrome” when he realized there wasn’t a name for a string of letters that spells one word forward and a different word backward, such as “god” and “dog” and “stressed” and “desserts." They’re kind of like palindromes, but not exactly, so he tacked his name onto the front of the “drome” root and has been campaigning to get his new word listed in dictionaries. I think it’s a useful word, but the bottom line is that he has to get people to use it, and use it repeatedly over a significant period of time, like any other word before dictionaries will include it. As Regina in the movie “Mean Girls” proved, you can’t just make “fetch” happen

I feel optimistic about “levidrome” though because it is so useful. When I was on vacation I played around with trying to make a game based on levidromes, but nothing I came up with seemed fun enough to actually make into a real game, but Levi’s father said in a news article that teachers are sending him pictures of students making levidrome lists the same way they might make palindrome or homophone lists. So that seems promising.

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