Language to Print, An Exploration of a Word’s Journey to the Dictionary

J.M. Lesinski

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An image of Webster's new pocket dictionaryPhoto by J.M. Lesinski

The English lexicon is a fickle monstrosity harrowing betwixt the vocabulary of lingual decency and a wretched atlas of irreprehensible slang. To put English into what many would refer to as “Plain English,” there are many words one can choose to speak, but there are barriers surrounding certain words.

Composing this very article, a writing program will point out any professional errors and immediately address them with a colored line below the word, phrase, or punctuation. However, all words come from somewhere and start somehow. Behind the curtains of modern English, there is a cohesive system of discovering new words and slowly introducing them to society via the dictionary.

The act of speaking itself has never really been seen as trendy among people, yet words are as vivacious and controlling as pop culture television, music, and fashion. There are other elements to speaking like tone, inflection, and accents, but words stand alone as a facet of human interaction.

Recently, Merriam-Webster released the dictionary sample list of new words, consisting of a variety of new words, some of which happen to be what current college students would consider slang or not a word worthy of dictionary-recognition. A prime example of slang being turned into a definition is the phrase “aha moment.”

The definition stems from the pop culture icon Oprah and one of her many euphemisms about life. Though insight and other words describe the phrase it is one-of-a-kind, “Oprah Winfrey's signature phrase ‘aha moment’ (a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension).” (Merriam-Webster.com).

Aha moment comes to the dictionary with a simple, but meaningful definition. The simplicity of Oprah’s statement can now guide generations to name that moment in life when things finally turned around, or a positive light came in to their lives. The cultural relevance of Oprah’s phrase becoming part of the dictionary shows a new generation something they might not be able to understand otherwise and something wise-enough that should never be left to pass as a fad.

Culture occupies a vast majority of the English language. Shakespearian words originate in dictionaries because of his plays and writings. Even the word Shakespearian holds enough sway as a word to be capitalized for the man’s impact on language.

Though culture’s impact is inarguable, the naming of a new word is another common scenario of implementation to the dictionary. “These are called eponyms. For example, the word “pasteurize” comes from the scientist Louis Pasteur who invented the process of heating food to kill bacteria.” (Dictionary.com).

Over time pasteurization has become a household word across the world for its scientific contribution. Dictionaries ultimately hold the meaning, and although in culture the phrase naturally seeps in and eventually becomes print, the scientific terms arrive in first for the publishing of a new discovery.

The true origins of a word reaching a dictionary can be different and assuredly so, each word has a unique story surrounding the first time it was spoken. The factor that ultimately places a word into the dictionary is how it is used in print.

The use in print is independently researched by dictionary companies, using incredible technology. Oxford dictionaries use two separate technologies, to examine sources from documents as well as pop culture. “The Corpus consists of entire documents sourced largely from the World Wide Web, while the Reading Programme is an electronic collection of sentences or short extracts drawn from a huge variety of writing, from song lyrics and popular fiction to scientific journals.” (oxforddictionaries.com).

The publishers are the metaphorical wall between a word and term. Obviously finding demonstrations of the term in writing will happen when a word is placed long enough on a timeline. As of late, catchy terms are becoming more desired to be words though. “New terms can achieve enormous currency with a wide audience in a much shorter space of time, and people expect to find these new 'high-profile' words in their dictionaries.” (oxforddictionaries.com).

The addition of new terms may seem somewhat absurd from skeptics on certain fad words, but the relevance of these words in today’s society keeps growing. The intense study of modern language yields new words each year and as the language grows, society’s regular vocabulary grows alongside.

Though many people tend to view dictionaries as trendy novels, the frequent updates and constant buying make them a fairly consistent societal element. In fact, the presence of dictionaries in society goes back to the eighteen-fifties. The dictionary serves a very noble purpose that is vital to communication between one another.

Cultural values and history itself each get passed down in the study of English. The words we speak, like all of our thoughts in writing, must be examined thoroughly and carefully to convey the most meaningful and effective messages. Words, the true make-up of our language, hold the most important place in everything humans speak, and dictionaries provide the pages to hold these little marvels.

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Professional journalist for over five years, covering topics all up and down both coasts of the United States, including arts, music, food, politics, and culture. I have a B.A. in English from SUNY Fredonia with minors in Psychology and Creative Writing, as well as an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from California State University, Fresno.

Buffalo, NY
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