Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a piece of information that a computer program finds for you

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun hit dates from the middle of the 15th century while the verb it derives from was first recorded in the 11th century. Hit comes from late Old English ‘hyttan‘ and is related to similar words in Scandinavian languages. The computing use dates from the 1960s.


Use of a corpus is a fundamental part of modern lexicography. In fact for most lexicographers it’s pretty much unthinkable to attempt to compile a dictionary without one. Corpora – searchable collections of written and spoken language stored on computers – are an essential tool for detecting the meaning of a word or phrase and finding out how it is being used. Modern corpus search software enables lexicographers to access and analyse evidence of language use in different ways: to gain a snapshot of a word’s grammatical and collocational patterns, for example, or to dive down deep into the different nuances of meaning. The evidence is generally presented in the form of concordances, chunks of the text with the word or phrase that has been searched for in the centre. These chunks of text are often referred to as ‘lines’ or hits, a term used general computing to refer to a match between a search requirement and a piece of data. A frequent word like ‘search’ gets millions of hits in a large modern corpus, while an infrequent one like ‘concordance’ only gets a few thousand.

If you would like to explore how dictionaries are made in the 21st century, you can sign up for a brand new MOOC called Understanding English Dictionaries. The course is free and runs for six weeks. You can, of course, do as much or as little of it as you like. To find out more, check out the FutureLearn website.


“The greatest masterpiece in literature is only a dictionary out of order.”
(Jean Cocteau)

Related words

concordance, corpus, keyword, search

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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