Updated dictionary contains thousands of new words

Posted: Sunday, October 26, 2003

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. Certain a dead-cat bounce would be of little help, the former dot-commer took a McJob because she needed dead presidents.

Translation: Certain a brief and insignificant recovery in the stock market would be of little help, a person who used to own or work for an Internet company took a low-paying job that requires little skill or opportunity for advancement because she needed money.

Dead-cat bounce, dot-commer, McJob and dead presidents are just four of the nearly 10,000 new words and phrases included in the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster's Colleg-iate Dictionary.

The book is updated once a decade. In addition to new words, the book includes about 100,000 updated meanings and revisions to its 225,000 words.

But how well does the average mall-goer know these new words?

Being 15, Jaquanza Brown and Natisha Jones were familiar with such slang additions as phat (meaning excellent).

"It's not cool that phat is in the dictionary," Jones said. "That means old people will be using it, and senior citizens shouldn't be talking like that."

OK, so phat's easy. What about Frankenfood?

"Oh, I've head of Frankenfood," Brown said confidently. "It's German food, right?"

Jones rolled her eyes.

"You're wrong," Jones said. "It's a way to say frank and beans."

Both girls were surprised to learn the word describes genetically engineered food. Brown wrinkled her nose and sighed.

"Some of these words make no sense," Brown said. "Where did they find these words?"

Pop culture and the Internet are the most popular sources for new words because both are so pervasive, said Michael Roundy, an associate editor with Merriam-Webster.

Dictionary editors spend part of each day reading magazines, newspapers, books and other sources searching for new words and meanings. When one is spotted, the word and the context in which it is used is added to a paper catalog and computer database, which have more than 70 million citations combined, Roundy said.

When it is time to prepare the new edition, editors go through all the citations.

There are not sharply defined criteria for inclusion, but a word typically makes the cut if it is used repeatedly over an extended period of time in a variety of places, Roundy said.

For some, the new words provide validation. New to the dictionary is barista, a term used to describe people who make and serve coffee.

"This is so cool, now I can show it to my friends and family," said Anneka Smith, a barista at Starbucks in Jacksonville.

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