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July 10, 2003 - 11th Edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary - 2003-07-10

Broadcast on COAST TO COAST: July 10, 2003

AA: I'm Avi Arditti, Rosanne Skirble is away. This week on WORDMASTER -- a look at some of the ten-thousand new words and meanings in a popular American dictionary.

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary contains two-hundred-twenty-five-thousand definitions, if anyone's counting. It's updated yearly, but every ten years it goes through a major revision.

Editors read through all sorts of publications to find material for the eleventh-edition Collegiate. They made sure people really use terms like "supermom." That's defined as "an exemplary mother, also a woman who performs the traditional duties of housekeeping and child-rearing while also having a full-time job."

But when it comes to language, it's technology that cooks up lots of new vocabulary. "Pop-up," an old term, can now refer to advertisements that pop up on Web sites. There's "drag-and-drop" -- that's what you do when you pull a computer file across the screen.

There's also "PDA," or personal digital assistant. As associate editor Tom Pitoniak explains, this refers to a small handheld device that's used especially to store and organize personal information, such as addresses, schedules and notes.

PITONIAK: "With PDA, one thing that comes to mind there is really, it's a wireless device. These aren't just Internet, per se. When you really talk about a convergence -- which itself is one of the words that's developed a new sense -- you see that all of these things are intersecting to some extent. 'Convergence' is worth mentioning -- the merging of distinct technologies, industries or devices into a unified whole -- and really that's happened naturally with this eleventh edition, because when you buy the dictionary you also get a CD-ROM and a year's subscription to the Collegiate Web site."

AA: "And what about, moving away from technology, since there are so many terms, what about other terms, from popular culture, or from -- what are some interesting words that leap off the pages?"

PITONIAK: "I think some might be words like 'air rage' or 'supermom.'"

AA: "'Air rage' is what exactly?"

PITONIAK: "It's basically a behavior -- if you know 'road rage,' it's basically similar behavior in the air, passengers going berserk. Others would be 'supermodel,' is another one."

AA: "Meaning a really high-paid model for clothing and fashion."

PITONIAK: "'Dead presidents' -- slang for U.S. money in the form of bills."

AA: "That's because our banknotes have pictures of dead presidents, old presidents on them."

PITONIAK: "Exactly. We've also tried to include a lot of expanded coverage of phrases, because one thing we've been able to see from our Web site is that people want to know what phrases mean, and this is true of English language learners as well. So you'll see phrases like 'connect the dots.'"

AA: "Which means?"

PITONIAK: "To link some things together logically. Or to 'look daggers' at someone -- to look with sort of an aggressive or mean face. Or something that's a 'done deal,' been resolved."

AA: "Let me ask you one last question here. Now to make room for some of these new words, I'm assuming you've had to take some older words out of the Collegiate. What are a couple of those words that you said goodbye to?"

PITONIAK: "A couple would be 'record-changer,' for the old machines that played the vinyl LP's and put one on after the other. 'Portapak' was a combined videotape recorder and camera. And one that I'll just mention, too, quickly -- 'ten-cent store.' You wonder if there's a little bit of inflation going on there, since nowadays at least around here there's some discount stores called 'family dollar' or 'dollar value.' So you wonder if forty years from now we'll have 'dollar store' in there or it'll be coming out."

AA: Tom Pitoniak is an associate editor at Merriam-Webster, in Springfield, Massachusetts, publishers of the new 11th Edition of the Collegiate Dictionary.

By the way, several companies use the name Webster on dictionaries. But Merriam-Webster actually traces its history back to the work of Noah Webster, publisher in 1806 of -- in the company's proud words -- "the first truly American dictionary."

And that's Wordmaster for this week. Our e-mail address is And look us up on the Web at I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "Make Yourself Comfortable"/Andy Griffith with Jean Wilson 1955