Dictionary.com Word FAQs
Where do new words come from?
Speakers do not confine themselves to existing, conventional units when using the English language; to express their exact meaning in a given context, they take advantage of the wide range of creative resources provided by the language. Many of these creations become more frequent and conventionalized over time. These new words and new senses of words show up in lexicographers' citation files and in electronic corpora (collections of writing and speech) that dictionary editors use as their data for determining dictionary inclusion. There are six ways new words are created according to John Algeo, a leading researcher of new words: 1) Combining - such as making compounds, adding affixes, 2) Shifting of meaning - old words with new meanings, 3) Shortening - abbreviations or acronyms, 4) Blending - combining parts of words to make new words, 5) Borrowing - words incorporated from other languages, and 6) Creating - making up words that have no connection to existing words. When new words succeed it may be because they have filled a gap in our vocabulary, or give an additional perspective to something familiar. But whether a new word survives and flourishes does not depend on whether it fills a perceived gap in the vocabulary and not even on whether it is useful. Rather, it depends on whether it "clicks" with speakers and writers of the language. A dictionary records new words; it is not their source. If dictionaries introduced new words, no one would know they were there! People invent new words and if they succeed, dictionary editors will then include them. We do learn new words from dictionaries, but they are words that are already established in the vocabulary. They may be new to you, but not to English. As far as a new word's inclusion in a dictionary, the lexicographers involved must determine whether a new word is a serious candidate for the dictionary and a place in our permanent vocabulary. Often this is based on the lexicographers' experience and knowledge, as there is no guarantee of a word's continued popularity in our extremely fast-changing world. In general, lexicographers base decisions on the collected citation file and corpus - for determining both what new words and new senses mean, but also for evidence that they are used with enough frequency to warrant inclusion in a dictionary. Dictionary editors often err on the side of including the latest words because it is a selling point for a dictionary's marketing department. If these new words actually die out, they can be weeded from the next edition of the dictionary.