Dictionaries add words all the time. But really, it’s not the dictionaries adding words to the language. It’s us.
Dictionaries just record the words we’ve anointed by using them enough to indicate we really have made them part of the language.
That’s an art, of course, not a science.
Most dictionaries drop words, too, banishing from their pages terms we’ve banished from our speech and writing.
But there’s an exception: the Oxford English Dictionary, or OED — a historical record of the language where words check in, but they don’t check out.
“As a historical dictionary, the OED is very different from dictionaries of current English, in which the focus is on present-day meanings,” the editors explain on the dictionary’s website.
“You’ll still find present-day meanings in the OED, but you’ll also find the history of individual words, and of the language — traced through 3 million quotations, from classic literature and specialist periodicals to film scripts and cookery books,” the editors added.
For this reason, the OED has a singular place in the language — an authority held above all others.
So when this dictionary adds words, it’s worth taking notice. The new words can be a window into our minds and our culture.
Take, for example, one of the OED’s 2019 additions: “cannabusiness.”
We should have seen this one coming. Cannabis is gaining legal acceptance in a number of places in the country. Businesses are swooping in to profit off the new opportunities.