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Feb 13, 2006
This week's theme
Coined words

This week's words
locust years

“Words are the small change of thought.” ~Jules Renard
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with Anu Garg

"I coined this word. Could you tell me how I can get it into a dictionary?" From time to time I'm asked questions like this by folks wondering how to get a word to take up residence in the hallowed halls of lexiconia.

Thousands of new words do enter the dictionaries every year. So, what's the criterion for their inclusion? What does a word have to do to be worthy of being called 'legitimate'? Who decides what's a good word and what isn't?

Usage is the most important factor to determine if a word gains membership of that exclusive club. It has to appear extensively, in many different sources, such as newspapers, magazines, books, TV, radio, Internet, etc., over several years to show that it is gaining currency. It has to fill a need and describe a phenomenon for which no other word exists. Also, it doesn't hurt if the word is catchy and captures public imagination.

Dictionary editors read a wide variety of sources to monitor the language. They take notes -- known as citations -- on little index cards or in a computer database. Once there is enough evidence, they consider whether to include it in the next edition of their dictionary, and if the answer is yes, they work to define it precisely.

So how do you win that honor for your little baby? It's not easy. Share it with family and friends, use it, and encourage them to publish letters, articles, stories using that word. And even if it doesn't make it into the dictionary, remember that it's still a bona fide word -- nothing in the definition of the word 'word' says that a word has to be in a dictionary to be called one.

Have fun coining words, and enjoy this week's coinages that did reach the dictionaries.


(YOO-stuh-see) Pronunciation Sound Clip

noun: A uniform global change in sea level.

[From eustatic, from German eustatisch, coined by Austrian geologist Edward Suess.]

"She wasn't asking for trouble... she demanded it. Not the trouble eustasy would cause her ex shacked up in his beachfront bachelor pad, but trouble still."
David Breskin; Literary Fiction; Triquarterly (Evanston, Illinois); Winter 2000.


Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God's service when it is violating all his laws. -John Adams, 2nd US president (1735-1826)

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