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You’re Thinking About the Dictionary All Wrong, Lexicographers Say

An anonymous reader shares a report on The Outline: It seems like ever since “bootylicious” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in 2004, dictionaries have been trying to play catch up to ever-evolving languages of slang, especially when it comes to words originating with African Americans and other communities of color. User-generated definitions found on websites like Urban Dictionary and Genius are also giving them some competition. But in fact, lexicographers have always intended the dictionary to be more of an archive than an authority. The purpose of the dictionary has always been to record how language is being used, but the internet has allowed publishers and lexicographers to communicate that purpose differently, explained Kory Stamper, lexicographer and author of Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, to The Outline. “I think people assume that because dictionaries are dusty books that the language is this dusty book or that language is only what you find in the dictionary,” Stamper said. “And to be able to say, ‘No, language is always on the move and here’s how it’s moving,’ really mirrors the way that we can interact with people online.” Thanks to the internet, it’s now easier for lexicographers to access more written materials and take note of the ways people are using and producing language. And as a result, dictionaries are updated more frequently and more robustly than they were in the days of print-only source material. “Woke” was just one of 1200 new additions to the OED this quarter alone. But even with all the technology afforded to them, lexicographers still walk a fine line between including words that are well-known enough without being too obscure. “We joke around that when we add new words we want 50 percent of the people who see that new word to say, ‘Oh my gosh that’s not in the dictionary yet?'” said Stamper, who writes for Merriam-Webster. “And then we want the other half of people to go, ‘I don’t even know what this word is. Why are you adding it to the dictionary?'”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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