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Highlights from our latest update

Written by Michael Rundell

Recent lurid revelations from Hollywood show that the gender gap continues to raise big social, ethical, and economic issues. It’s surprising how few Hollywood films, even in 2017, pass the Bechdel test, which requires that at least two women in a movie have a conversation that isn’t about one of the male characters. Both these words have been much in the news in the last few months, and both are among the hundreds of new additions to the Macmillan Dictionary in its latest release.

Our new update features, as always, a mix of recently-coined words and phrases, familiar words that have acquired new meanings, and further additions to our stock of vocabulary from specialized fields and from Englishes around the world.



Treating one gender differently from another is one aspect of othering, a widespread practice which sometimes takes the form of trash talk — a negative way of talking about a person you dislike or disagree with. One (newish) way of insulting someone is to call them a durr-brain, but at least that one is often used in a non-aggressive way (and you can even use it about yourself). On a more light-hearted note, shrinkflation describes a marketing ruse where a familiar product is sold at its usual price – but with the size reduced, just enough that consumers may not notice. Shrinkflation is discussed in more detail in one of Kerry Maxwell’s BuzzWord columns. And as Kerry points out, the word — formed from shrink and inflation — is a blend. Blending is one of several mechanisms by which new words can be created. Others include clipping, like referring to your family as your fam (another word that recently entered the dictionary, alongside rents, for parents), and verbing (converting a noun into a verb). Our last update included jones as a noun — when you have a jones for something, you really want it — but corpus data shows that speakers are now just as likely to use the verb form:

Speaking of which, I think I may be jonesing for a butterscotch sundae.
I had been jonesing to get out of the city for months.

Old words, new meanings

Metaphor generates new language too, typically adding new meanings to words we’re already familiar with. In its literal meaning, a snowflake is a light and delicate thing, and the word is now a metaphor for someone who is thought of as oversensitive and too easily offended. Another word that’s increasingly used metaphorically is gateway drug. Originally meaning a less harmful drug which may lead users to experiment with more dangerous drugs, gateway drug now often refers to something that leads you into other forms of “addiction” — even when these may be harmless or positively beneficial:

That remix was a gateway drug to a serious electronic music obsession for me.
Often, volunteering is the gateway drug that gets them hooked on working to enhance their community.

A favourite phrase of mine has made it into the dictionary in this update: to be a thing. It comes up in expressions like “When did that become a thing?”, “Is that really a thing?”, or “How is that even a thing?”, and implies that, yes, something actually is real, even though this may be surprising. It’s one of many items which first arrived as submissions to our crowdsourced Open Dictionary, and which have now been “promoted” to become full Macmillan Dictionary headwords. Be a thing, a nod to (and many others) were originally submitted by Boris Marchenko, one of our most prolific Open Dictionary contributors. Thanks to Boris, and many others all over the world, the Open Dictionary continues to thrive, and — with several hundred new submissions every month — it plays an important part in helping us keep the dictionary up to date.

Specialized vocabulary: legal English (again) and the language of language teaching

Thanks to our ongoing collaboration with Dr. Kevin Pike, who lectures in English for Legal Studies at Erlangen University, our coverage of English legal terminology gets better and grows wider with every new release, and the dictionary now includes well over 700 terms from the field of law.

But our main focus in the current update has been on describing terms used in the field of language teaching, especially ELT. Our work in this area was inspired by the new edition of Scott Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT, published earlier this year. We have added around 170 new entries from this field, from the fairly familiar (like communicative approach, lesson plan, and direct question) to the highly specialized (differentiated instruction, back-channelling, lexical density, and phonological core — to name just a few). So if you need to know about any of these, or about abbreviations such as CLIL, CEFR, or EIL, Macmillan Dictionary is the go-to resource.

Canadian English

The dictionary continues to improve its coverage of World Englishes, too, with several new additions from various parts of the English-speaking world. This time, however, we’re concentrating on Canadian English, a variety which hasn’t been well represented in general dictionaries until now. People tend to think Canadians speak pretty much the same English as their neighbours in the US, but that’s an oversimplification. As a step towards correcting this notion, we now include around 50 Canadianisms, including eavestrough, keener, pogey, and CFA (“come from away” − referring to someone who has moved in from another area or another country). This is just a start, and if any Canadians reading this would like to help us improve the dictionary’s description of their variety of English, we’d be happy to hear from them: just go to the submissions page in the Open Dictionary, and send in your words.

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Michael Rundell

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