The Too-Big Very Large Dictionary

Have you ever wondered who decides what words are included in the dictionary? Is there some secret society of Masonic librarians that is the keeper of the linguistic units? Merriam-Webster’s covey of word keepers recently made a few additions to their collection.

Some of their new inclusions are so overused in the media that there is no choice but to make them official. For example, IED (improvised explosive device), a joint creation of CNN and the Department of Defense, is mentioned in almost every newscast on television. Others, like Bollywood, have such accepted use in pop culture that they make the cut.

Then there are the more fun new words like ginormous. It’s even fun to say. I’m sure the word originated from American society where big is never big enough and where our laziness means that really, really big takes too long to say. And don’t forget crunk. I don’t know what it means, but I like to say it. I guess I can look it up.

Along with these practical and fun words are some that I can’t imagine having any useful purpose outside of tormenting young spelling bee contestants. Take nocebo for example. This refers to a placebo that when taken by a patient is associated with harmful effects because of the patient’s negative expectations. While I’m sure that this is important to some in the medical community, I’m also sure this will be the first and last time I will ever use that word.

Every year the good people at Webster’s add more entries to their dictionary. But are their motives all good, or is it a plot to sell more dictionaries? Obviously they have not considered the negative impacts the new words have on society. For one, spell-check doesn’t recognize the new words, forcing people to use the latest model of the dictionary.

Meanwhile, the dictionary keeps getting fatter and fatter by the year. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary contains over 214,000 definitions. And not once do I recall hearing about a word being retired. This is highly inefficient and irresponsible. It’s time we trim the fat. We could get by just fine with 1500 words.

How do we do it? First we put a 10-year moratorium on new words. This will stop the expansion. Then we implement a synonym eradication program. This effort alone will reduce the word count by thousands. And finally we retroactively remove all new words that have been added over the past 10 years. Then maybe the dictionary won’t be so ginormous.


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