How New Words Are Added to the Dictionary

Do you wonder how they decide which new words to add to the Oxford English Dictionary? Do we take it for granted knowing that all we need to do is go through the paperback or nowadays go online to find the meaning of a certain word?

Today, I am going to tell you some facts about the OED which is interesting and eye-opening. But first of all, who is the OED? When did it all begin?

The OED History

It all began in 1857 when the Philological Society of London made a decision that the existing English dictionaries were not complete. They went for the whole haul and re-examined the language from Anglo-Saxon times going forwards.

In 1879, with the Oxford University Press and James. A. H. Murray (Scottish lexicographer and the first editor) work began, and the Oxford English Dictionary was born – known then as A New English Dictionary.

How it works

Words don’t just suddenly appear in the OED; a lot of hard work and lengthy research is conducted. Words considered to be included in the dictionary must be added to the dictionary’s watch list database before they’re even considered. This database includes contributions from many different sources, such as the OED’s own reading programmes and crowdsourcing appeals.

The Reading Programmes

 These programmes, such as the UK and North American Reading Programme, collect millions of quotations from all over the world. Readers examine texts such as novels, magazines, newspapers, poetry, scientific journals, and TV script from the 19th and 20th centuries. They also look at new and old words – new for obvious reasons, and old because their meanings may have changed, or they might be used in a different way.

OED’s historical reading programme also looks at older texts for words that have not been previously recorded in the OED.

Crowdsourcing Appeals

This is where you come in. The OED is always looking for the public to help them with an early record of a word they are researching. There are quite a few appeals on the OED website currently. Here are just a few of them:

  • OED antedatings: Can you conduct some linguistic detective work and help find the origins of words? How about the earliest possible quotations?
  • Words at work: Can you help identify words, expressions, phrases used at your place of work?
  • Youth words: Can you research words used in social media?
  • Hobby words: Can you identify words, phrases, and expressions from your hobby or pastime?

More information can be found on the OED website.

What happens next?

An editor reviews the information gathered about the assigned word, and this is then examined to trace the word’s origin and development. The research is conducted through:

  • Newspaper archives
  • Online forums
  • Academic studies
  • Magazines
  • Law tracts
  • Recipe books
  • Social media for published evidence of the word
  • OED’s network of researchers, based at institutions around the world.

Once the research is completed, a draft begins to record the word in the OED. This requires specialist teams such as pronunciation editors who create audio files, and bibliographers who review quotations.

Once the dictionary reviews have been signed off by each team, the ‘word’ then goes to the finalisation team, which includes the dictionary’s chief and deputy chief editors for the final say, before it goes into the OED. 

A few of the latest words to be included in the OED

  • clockwork orangeA humorous name for a carriage or train on the Glasgow Subway; (hence also) the underground railway system of Glasgow (added Dec. 2020)
  • adultingTo become, be, or behave as an adult; (now) esp. to carry out the mundane or everyday tasks that are a necessary part of adult life (added Dec. 2020)
  • code reda state of emergency or imminent danger; a situation requiring immediate action (added Sept. 2020)

What words would you like to see added to the dictionary?

Featured image by Наталия Когут on Pixabay

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