New year, new words: Macmillan Dictionary’s latest update

Posted by on January 23, 2017

© GETTYMacmillan Dictionary kicks off 2017 with another major update (what we call a “new release”).

As always, the hundreds of additions to the dictionary include general vocabulary items referring to things or concepts that didn’t exist before, among them words like cat café, no-platform, and cupcakery. More often, though, a new word will emerge to lexicalize something that already exists but doesn’t yet have a name. Giving up doing something because it’s driving you crazy is hardly a new phenomenon — but now we have a verb for it: to rage-quit. Similarly, the old word lifer (someone serving a life sentence in prison) is now also used to mean someone who has worked for the same organization for the whole of their career:




The story centers on CIA lifer Bob Barnes … in the midst of an arms deal.
General Motors CEO Dan Akerson will step down next month and be replaced by GM “lifer” and global product chief Mary Barra.

And if you want to describe someone who’s very aware of current social and political issues, there’s the new adjective woke (to go with more established words like clued-up or well-informed). Recent expressions like awesomesauce (fantastic) and a jones for (a feeling that you really want something) join dozens of older words used for expressing the same ideas.

Not “new” but newly popular
Not all our “new” words are really new. The punctuation mark that combines a ! and a ? acquired the name interrobang in the 1960s but, as explained in the Economist, it has seen a big revival thanks to social media. The expression inside baseball refers to detailed or highly technical information (about any subject, not just baseball), as shown in examples like these:

It’s a bit “inside baseball“, but I think you get the idea of how this is a cool thing for a website to have.
Academia often serves up inside baseball debates when it thinks it’s being intellectual.

In fact, this term has been around for many years, but our most recent corpus has over 800 instances of its use, suggesting a new level of popularity. Something similar seems to be happening with the expression manic pixie dream girl, which was actually coined in 2007, as explained in the “Word Story” at that entry.

Word Stories
The Word Stories in Macmillan Dictionary are there to explain the origins of familiar words and expressions: why do we talk about a person’s Achilles’ heel, or say that someone has crossed the Rubicon? We’ve been adding more of these in each update (the latest ones explain black swan, dog whistle, narcissism, and down the rabbit hole, among others), and the dictionary now includes almost 250 Word Stories. If you’re wondering why English speakers use a particular expression, and there’s no Word Story to help you, let us know and we’ll try to do something about it in the next release.

World Englishes
Dictionaries generally give a good account of the two dominant varieties of English (American and British), they but haven’t always done enough to reflect vocabulary used in other parts of the English-speaking world. At Macmillan we’ve been working to address this. Last year’s new releases featured a big expansion in words from other varieties of English, notably Indian and Australian. And through a collaboration with the Dictionary Unit for South African English, we’ve almost doubled the number of South African words in the dictionary. More words from global Englishes are included in the current update, including depanneur (a convenience store in parts of Canada) and handphone (the word for mobile phone in Malaysia and other parts of southeast Asia). And for the first time, we’re including English words used in the Philippines, with over 30 entries newly added. We’d like to improve our coverage of Philippine English, so if there are any experts out there who know words we haven’t yet covered, you could draw them to our attention by submitting them to the Open Dictionary.

Gems from the Open Dictionary
Macmillan’s Open Dictionary continues to be a great source of new material. The current release includes dozens of words that first came to our attention as submissions to the Open Dictionary, including anthropogenic, bad cholesterol, silver bullet, and microaggression. We’re grateful to all of you who contribute to the dictionary in this way, and special thanks are due to our two most prolific “submitters”: Caleb Judy from the US, and Boris Marchenko from Russia, who send us high-quality, up-to-the-minute entries on a regular basis. (Boris has just added kompromat, a Russian word meaning “compromising material”, which has featured in recent allegations about Donald Trump.)

Sublanguages: legal English
New technologies, especially in the fields of IT and social media, continue to spawn new vocabulary, and in this release we add terms like Viner (someone who makes short films for sharing on the Vine site), wearables (anything you wear which incorporates technology), and smishing (a blend of SMS and phishing, as Kerry Maxwell explains in her Buzzword article on this subject). The noun reboot – which originally referred to restarting a computer – is another of those IT words which (like default setting) is now more often used in less technical contexts, like these:

Currently, the partnership is working on Jack Ryan, the reboot of the Tom Clancy spy franchise.
The reboot of classic 80s TV guilty pleasure Dallas has taken America by storm

One of the features of Macmillan’s new releases is that – as well as generally updating the dictionary – we focus on a particular subset of the lexicon (a “sublanguage”) in order to significantly improve our coverage of it. Technical words (like smishing) are a regular part of any update, and this one also includes terms such as pentaquark (from physics), ASPD (medicine), and ectotherm (biology). Last year saw a big overhaul in the field of grammar and linguistics, as grammarian Gill Francis added dozens of new terms. This time we’ve done a similar job with legal English. Kevin Pike, who teaches English for Legal Studies at Erlangen University (Germany) has added almost 500 new legal terms to the 150 or so we already had, making the Macmillan Dictionary the obvious destination for anyone studying English for legal purposes. Kevin will be blogging about legal English and the dictionary later this week.

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