Fwd: Dictionary inclusion of unworthy words ["phat"]

Joanne M. Despres jdespres at MERRIAM-WEBSTER.COM
Tue Sep 24 13:55:09 UTC 2002

On 23 Sep 2002, at 19:18, Laurence Horn wrote:

> At 11:18 AM -0400 9/23/02, Jesse Sheidlower wrote:
> Speaking of which...
> Anyone watching ABC World News Tonight will have noticed the last
> segment (promoted through the half hour) on why and how new words get
> into "Webster's Dictionary".  This was a segment shot in Springfield,
> at Merriam-Webster, and included comments by several lexicographers
> there on such items as "netiquette" and "booty(licious)".   The
> lexicographer who got the most air time was never identified by name,
> but did explain to the world that M-W's evidence clearly indicates
> that "phat" originated as an acronym of 'Pretty Hips And Thighs'.  Is
> this something we actually know, or even universally believe?  Is
> anyone here (from M-W or elsewhere) willing to divulge what this
> evidence is?  I'm skeptical, as I always am of acronymic slang
> derivations (especially for words that don't have a clear military or
> cyber-origin).

The unidentified fellow was senior editor Jim Lowe, who handles
new entries in the printings of the Collegiate that fall between major
revisions (and, as the house expert on neologisms, tends to be
tapped for interviews).  Actually, I think he said that a number of M-
W's sources give the acronymic etymology.  He didn't mean that
as an endorsement, but evidently it was interpreted that way and
foregrounded more than he meant it to be.  When I asked him
which sources he was referring to, he shrugged his shoulders and
said that the hypothesis is "mentioned in the citations," but
expressed doubt that it holds any water.  Jim Rader (our chief
etymologist) doesn't think much of the explanation either. His ety
in C11 says that the word is "probably an alteration of fat."

So much for the reliability and depth of network news.  How did you
like the shot of the guy in the bookstore leafing through a copy of
Webster's New World?

Joanne Despres

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