English expands again


All modern languages are alive, in that they grow and change as a response to the way their speakers use them. English, as the most widely spoken language on earth today, expands at a rapid clip. While it’s easy to observe these changes first-hand, we can also look to the dictionaries for notice because they periodically update the official lexicon by expanding their entries.

Last week, Merriam-Webster updated its roster of English words with a new crop of over 840 recently sanctioned additions. That doesn’t mean the words are truly novel; the fact that you and millions of others have been using these terms for years is precisely why they are now included in the dictionary. This being the case, you’re probably familiar with at least a handful of the recruits. And as usual, they represent a broad set of categories.


What brings people together? Food, of course! And don’t forget beer. Words like hophead (a beer lover, especially one partial to hoppy IPAs), iftar (the post-sunset meal with which Muslims break their fast each day in Ramadan) and gochujang (a delicious and spicy chili paste used in Korean dishes) track the English-speaking world’s evolving relationship with eating and drinking. That raging hostility we’re all subject to when our blood sugar drops too much made it into the dictionary this time too, in the form of hangry (I think we know what this word means all too well).


Are you a Boomer or a member of Generation X? Perhaps a Millennial? You probably know which you are, but the post-Millennial kids of today haven’t had a label firmly affixed to their generation until now. That ambiguity is gone; young people who joined us during the late ‘90s and early 2000s will henceforth be known as Generation Z. There’s also Latinx (a person of Latin descent, regardless of gender) and bougie (a standard shortened form of bourgeois, often used disparagingly).


As much time as we all spend on our phones, tablets and computers, it’s not surprising that many of the new words relate to technology in one form or another. There’s fintech (software, digital services and online platforms that are currently disrupting the accounting and banking worlds), predictive text (the bane of messagers constantly embarrassed by what our apps suggest or choose to include as our next words), and force quit (the way to deal with computer applications that refuse to respond to commands).


If the haves are well-represented in new words related to digital tech, the have-nots and those who struggle with mental health also appear in the latest round of dictionary entries. Food bank (is this seriously the first time the term has been official?), tent city (also a surprisingly late entry) and self-harm (physical pain intentionally inflicted upon yourself, especially through cutting or burning) are sad reminders that wider adoption of a word doesn’t always indicate positive change within human populations.

Some of the new words aren’t new at all – they’re simply newer and often easier ways to say the same old thing. RBI, a longstanding and frequently cited baseball statistic, is now also known as ribbie, a word derived from the common pronunciation of the acronym (runs batted in, for the uninitiated). Zuke and guac have earned the status of accepted short forms of the familiar foodstuffs zucchini and guacamole.

Whether it’s sports, technology, social concerns or food and drink that inspires your passions, you’re sure to have an opinion about which of the new words shouldn’t have been included and others that should have but weren’t.

There’s no solution for the former other than acceptance, however grudging, but if you’re committed to helping your favorites make it into a future round of dictionary additions, go forth and use those words. The more you speak, spread and share them, the more likely they are to make it to the big leagues eventually.


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Sarah Warlick

Sarah Warlick founded Proof Positive Content to provide professional service firms with high-quality content that resonates with their target audiences. Sarah's writing appears in books, on the websites of over a dozen Top 100 Accounting Firms and in Accounting Today, Forbes and other leading publications, but usually under another name. Ghostwriters rarely get the glory - their clients do!