Fact-checking a new word, part 1
When you have a new word on your hands, it’s not going to be in your print dictionary. How do you determine if the word is used correctly?
Online dictionaries are updated more frequently than print (most, quarterly) and are a good place to start. But even they may not list your new word yet. If that’s the case, your next step is to check online dictionaries’ and independent new-word lists.
Words in these lists will have research behind them: someone, generally a lexicographer, has discovered the word in many places and noted a consistency in spelling and usage. For a word to become a full-fledged member of English, it has to be used in a consistent way by many people. It has to be spread around, and to be spread around, those who hear it and pass it on have to have some idea of what it means.
When a word collector finds a candidate for a new word, that word has already been passed around for a bit and has a somewhat consistent meaning. In copyediting, that should be a minimum requirement: some shared meaning among the audience. (For more on when you should accept a new word, read “Should You Refudiate Neologisms?”)
Try these new-word lists:
Failing that, try open-dictionary lists, where words are crowdsourced. That is, users submit new words and their definitions to a dictionary for possible inclusion. A dictionary’s lexicographers will review the list and put their choices through their rigorous process for defining a word and including it in the corpus. This isn’t new. The Oxford English Dictionary got its start this way (if you’ve never read The Professor and the Madman, do so), and Merriam-Webster has been doing it since 2005. Now the Collins English Dictionary is making a big deal out of doing it.
Here are a few open lists to look in:
Despite all the amateur lexicographers out there, many new words just haven’t been found in the mainstream yet. Next week, we’ll talk about other sources of new words. Stay tuned!
For reviews of word resources, be sure to check out the Word Resource Roundup column in each issue of the Copyediting newsletter.