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August 13, 2000 - New Words in Dictionary - 2002-02-12

INTRO: VOA Wordmaster Rosanne Skirble talks with a dictionary editor about new words.

RS: Dictionary makers publish college editions each year. College dictionaries are defined by the number of words they contain - 200,000 compared to an unabridged dictionary that defines more than 300,000 words.

Random House in New York started the college dictionary trend back in 1947. Editorial Reference Director Wendolyn Nichols has the final say about what goes into the Random House Webster's College Dictionary. The 2000 edition released last month includes 303 new words and, she says, is a snapshot of contemporary life.


WENDOLYN NICHOLS: "We tend to track things for three or four years. We watch to see when something becomes widespread in use, when it moves out of simply teenage slang or simply technical jargon and moves into broader use by the general population and finding it in lots of different kind of media."

RS: "Let's talk about the words that came into the dictionary, not to our language, this year. What are the ones that you see are not ephemeral and may have some staying power?"

WENDOLYN NICHOLS: "I think that the word dot- com as a noun is going to have staying power for as long as those types of businesses exist, which are businesses that operate mainly on the web. The word "dot-com" as in `I'm going to go work for a `dot-com' and hopefully they will have an I-P-O (Initial Public Stock Offering) and I'll earn a lot of money,' has become so common a word that we don't even register it almost as being new."

RS: "In addition to `dot-com' you have a host of other computer words. What does that say about the kind of words that are coming into the dictionary?"

WENDOLYN NICHOLS: "We certainly have noticed that over the last decade the proportion of words coming from technology has certainly shifted. I would say, two-thirds are coming from technology, and it isn't just something that (computer technicians) use, this is stuff that people use in their lives as everyone is going on-line.

RS: Some other first-time high-tech listings include "Webmaster," the person who designs or maintains an Internet website; "e-tailing" the selling of goods or services on the Internet or through e-mail; and "keypal," the e-mail version of a pen pal.

Wendolyn Nichols says Random House Webster's College Dictionary also adds new definitions to standard words, like "candy."


WENDOLYN NICHOLS: "And, that is just something pleasing to look at. So you can have 'arm candy,' which is a great looking date that you walk into a party with, or you can have `eye candy' which is something really pleasant to look at. And, the implication is that it is something that will occupy your time, but it doesn't necessarily have a lot of substance (there)."

RS: Now, can `arm candy' be either male or female?"

WENDOLYN NICHOLS: "Yes, it can."

RS: But, if you're looking for something with nutritional substance, check out the new dictionary entry for "energy-bar," defined as "a high-protein food resembling a candy bar."

And, then there's the Spanish-sounding `fashionista' to describe someone who is fashion conscious or in the business of fashion.


WENDOLYN NICHOLS: "Fashion itself is not a Spanish word. And, you've got a Spanish suffix tacked on to fashion, but that's just Spanish influence on English where we will put suffixes from Spanish on to English words and not even really recognize that they are from Spanish."

RS: Wendolyn Nichols says the annual updates of Random House Webster's College Dictionary are a reflection of our rapidly evolving language and culture.

She says, while new words are added every year, fewer are taken out. One exception was the dance craze called the "Macarena." Random House Webster's College Dictionary listed the word in 1997 and eliminated it a year later.

So, put on your dancing shoes as we listen to the "Macarena," sung by the Spanish duo Los Del Rio. Avi Arditti will be back next week. I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC: "Macarena"