[lg policy] Should 'bromance' really be in the dictionary? Merriam-Webster thinks so.

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Fri Aug 26 15:27:49 UTC 2011

Should 'bromance' really be in the dictionary? Merriam-Webster thinks so.

Merriam-Webster has included 'bromance' and 'fist bump' among 150
other new words in its new collegiate dictionary. The words are a
compendium of American culture, linguists say.

By Daniel B. Wood, Staff writer / August 25, 2011
Los Angeles

“English is a living language,” says no less an authority than Sarah
Palin, who has coined a few words herself. So if you refudiate that
notion, then you're probably not happy with Merriam-Webster right now.

The new Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary has added 150 words in
its latest 2011 edition, including, “bromance” (a close, nonsexual
friendship between men), and “cougar” (middle-aged woman seeking a
romantic relationship with a younger man).

Here's a couple more: “fist bump” (touching knuckles lightly with
another person in lieu of a handshake), and “parkour” (a new sport
which combines running, climbing, and leaping over environmental

Who cares? Who should care? It turns out dictionaries reflect not only
which words are born each year, but which words die, as well. And
since space remains constant – for collegiate editions, anyway –
keeping track of what words come in and go out gives us a sort of
compendium of the national consciousness.

“It's useful for speakers of any language to see that the word stock
is always changing – new words are steadily adopted by users, and some
old words drop out, too,” says Laurel Smith Stvan, associate professor
of linguistics at the University of Texas at Arlington, in an e-mail.
"Some of them will likely drop from use before others, of course.”

What does it say about our preoccupations and attitudes, one might
ask, that the following words – not to be found in the 1969 American
Heritage Dictionary – elbowed their way into the first major revision,
published in 1982: upmanship, uptempo, fed up, breaking point,
railroading, group therapy, last ditch, last minute, last straw.

It's harder to find the ones they replaced, but four that disappeared
are cartwright, carpenter moth, bread line, and the Marx Brothers.

“There’s always a clash between something that the people say all the
time, and then the elite who decide when it goes into the dictionary,"
says Bryan Crable, founding director of Villanova University’s
Waterhouse Family Institute for the Study of Communication and
Society. "Just because a lot of people use a word, does that mean it
should be enshrined as an official part of the language? Dictionary
people get into some very serious arguments about this.”

Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster's editor at large, explains why his
dictionary has chosen the 150 new words."From the dramatic events of
the Arab Spring to the scandal that brought down Congressman Anthony
Weiner, 'tweet' is a word that has been part of the story," said Mr.
Sokolowski, according to Reuters. "Now we feel [these words'] meanings
have stabilized enough to include them in the dictionary."

New words often don't describe new things, they define new aspects of
human relationships. "We need words to show how we interact,” says
Professor Crable. “Bromance" he says, “is a convenient shortcut to
identifying a situation between two men in a way that ‘friend’ or
‘lover’ doesn’t."

Merriam-Webster’s latest dictionary now reflects evolving child-parent
relationships with the term, “helicopter parent” (a parent who is
overly involved in the life of his or her child), and “boomerang
child” (a young adult who returns to live at his or her family home,
especially for financial reasons).

Some custodians of English blanch at such terms gaining legitimacy.
"How long before they get around to including all of the text-speak
non-words? The dictionary should be reserved for standard spoken
English," says Jim Farrelly, an English professor at the University of
Dayton in Ohio, in an e-mail. "Let the online dictionaries keep a
record of the culture-bound words."

Stayed tuned on the word, “refudiate.” Palin made the remark in a July
2010 tweet – the common mixing of two words known as “malapropism” –
and defended herself later by saying, “English is a living language.”

She’s right about that, say linguists. But future dictionary-makers
will have to weigh the word’s staying power.

Recent polls show it might have more longevity than Palin herself.

Related stories

    Spelling bee champion triumphs with 'cymotrichous'
    National Spelling Bee protests: Should we simplify English spelling?
    Facebook discovers Urban Dictionary



 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com


This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format: https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list