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Principles for the Inclusion of New Words in College Dictionaries Jesse T Sheidlower L\i ew words are consistently among the most publicized elements of a college dictionary. There are of course a great many other elements that can be changed between editions, but the currency of a dictionary will be measured largely by its inclusion of neologisms. And whatever other changes an updated version of a dictionary may reflect—in focused definitions, in style of presentation, in improved writing, in better example sentences, in more accurate etymologies—it is primarily the coverage of current vocabulary that attracts the attention of the public. New-word editors now have an embarrassment of resources at their disposal. There are a number of dictionaries of new words that have appeared in recent years (see the list in Algeo 1993, to which can now be added Simpson and Weiner 1993a and b, and Lerner and Belkin 1993). There are two periodical collections of neologisms, the "Among the New Words" (ANW) column in American Speech and the Barnhart Dictionary Companion (BDC). There are other regular but generally less thorough discussions of new words, such as Anne Soukhanov's "Word Watch" column in The Atlantic Monthly, Thomas M. Paikeday 's "Lexicon" in English Today, William Safire's "On Language" in The New York Times Magazine, and the "Dictionary Update" column in Copy Editor, which I edit. And perhaps most important, diere are electronic databases such as NEXIS, LEXIS, and DIALOG that can provide useful data about the frequency, distribution, time frame, and range of use of words and phrases. Yet despite this plethora of research options, the decision to include any new word must be based on the answers to a number of questions, with a range of relevance: How much evidence, and of what sort, is there for the term? How useful will inclusion be to the users of Principles for the Inclusion of New Words33 the dictionary? On a different level, how much mileage can the marketing department get out of these words? How many of the competing dictionaries already have a particular neologism? There are four factors that must be regarded as paramount in any policy governing inclusion of a new word: the number of citations, the range of use of the citations, the time span in which the citations are found, and what might be called the word's cruciality, or the need to have the word in the language in the first place. The number of citations is the most obvious factor. This encompasses "the number of citations from different sources," which is something of a continuum. Two citations from the same article in the same magazine is not as good as two cites from different authors writing in different issues of the same magazine, which is in turn not as good as two citations, one from a magazine and one from a book by a different author on an unrelated topic. Without making too much of a simple issue, however, the more sources the better: more sources mean a clearer picture of the frequency and range of a term. This point has been well covered and does not need discussion here; see for example the excellent discussion in Landau 1984, 161f. Range of use is very important, because even words that are and have been rather common in certain fields might not be candidates for a college dictionary. Technical terms of various sorts probably make up the biggest batch of such words: though they might be common and important in their fields, if they do not have much mainstream use they can probably be safely excluded from a college dictionary . A college dictionary, we must remember, is aimed at people without proficiency in a given field: a mathematician who needs to know the exact meaning of a technical term will not look it up in a standard dictionary. While this does not excuse poor defining of those terms that are included, it does excuse the omission of those specialized terms (e.g., Bose-Einstein condensate or glucosyltransferase) that the mainstream reader would not be expected to encounter. The range of a word can change rapidly; a term that has been...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 32-44
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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