It was a ginormous year for the wordsmiths at Merriam-Webster.
Along with embracing the adjective that combines “gigantic” and “enormous,” the dictionary publishers also got into Bollywood, sudoku and speed dating.
But their interest in India’s motion-picture industry, number puzzles and trendy ways to meet people was all meant for a higher cause: updating the company’s collegiate dictionary, which goes on sale this fall with about 100 newly added words.
As always, the yearly list gives meaning to the latest lingo in pop culture, technology and current events.
There’s “crunk,” a style of Southern rap music; the abbreviated “DVR,” for digital video recorder; and “IED,” shorthand for the improvised explosive devices that have become common in the war in Iraq.
If it sounds as though Merriam-Webster is dropping its buttoned-down image with too much talk of “smackdowns” (contests in entertainment wrestling) and “telenovelas” (Latin-American soap operas), consider it also is adding “gray literature” (hard-to-get written material) and “microgreen” (a shoot of a standard salad plant.)
No matter how odd some of the words might seem, the dictionary editors say each has the promise of sticking around in the American vocabulary.
“There will be linguistic conservatives who will turn their nose up at a word like ‘ginormous,”’ said John Morse, Merriam-Webster’s president. “But it’s become a part of our language. It’s used by professional writers in mainstream publications. It clearly has staying power.”
One of those naysayers is Allan Metcalf, a professor of English at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., and the executive secretary of the American Dialect Society.
“A new word that stands out and is ostentatious is going to sink like a lead balloon,” he said. “It might enjoy a fringe existence.”
But Merriam-Webster traces ginormous back to 1948, when it appeared in a British dictionary of military slang. And in the past several years, its use has become, well, ginormous.
Visitors to the Springfield-based dictionary publisher’s Web site picked “ginormous” as their favorite word that’s not in the dictionary in 2005, and Merriam-Webster editors have spotted it in countless newspaper and magazine articles since 2000.
That’s essentially the criterion for making it into the collegiate dictionary — if a word shows up often enough in mainstream writing, the editors consider defining it.
But as editor Jim Lowe puts it: “Nobody has to use ‘ginormous’ if they don’t want to.”
For the record, he doesn’t.