Regular readers know I love a good dictionary update.
Dictionary.com isn’t my go-to dictionary, but I do consult it at times. The site updated and added a number of entries a couple of weeks ago.
Dictionary.com said its overhaul was intended to be more people-centric. Senior editor John Kelly said in an NPR interview, “Our revisions are putting people, in all their rich humanity, first, and we’re extremely proud of that.”
Interesting. Isn’t it a given that dictionaries are for people? Do any species beyond humans use a dictionary? Pandas? Minnows? Kudzu?
Earlier this year, the dictionary had already added or expanded entries for many words related to covid-19. Of course, the pandemic is a huge world event, but a word’s path to a dictionary is normally a bit slower.
Merriam-Webster made similar changes. Obviously, the online versions of any publications are a thousand times easier to update. (If I had the password to any dictionary, I’d sneak on to the site and delete all references to the verb impact. I dream big, don’t I?)
The April update included asymptomatic, viral load, social distance and more.
The Associated Press has already discouraged the use of asymptomatic because it’s medical jargon. The word means you’re showing no viral symptoms. But it’s confusing that it means you can have the virus and have no symptoms, or you can have no symptoms because you don’t have the virus.
Viral load is how large a concentration of a virus is in your blood or saliva.
I guess social distance was added because so many people have been living the concept for months now.
The killing of George Floyd and the ensuing protests also prompted a number of new entries. Dictionary.com said it was responding to a huge increase of searches for words and phrases such as “Black Life Matters” and “Antifa.”
Other changes include using a capital B with black when you’re referring to Black people. The website told NPR it was making the change “as a mark of respect and recognition that’s in line with capitalizing other cultures and ethnicities.”
The Associated Press decided the same thing in recent months. But both publications said that black, and white for that matter, should be used as an adjective when referring to people, never as a noun.
Dictionary.com also replaced a number of references to homosexual with gay. The reasoning was: “Many feel that this word places undue emphasis on sexual activity, or that it sounds overly clinical. In fact, homosexual as an adjective and noun has been mostly replaced by gay except in medical or other formal contexts.” GLAAD, the LGBTQ advocacy group, recommended the change.
I was amazed at the number of words the dictionary added for pets that lend a helping paw.
Each of these has its own definition: assistance animal, emotional support animal, comfort animal, companion animal, service animal and therapy animal. I’m not going to explain the distinctions because I can’t imagine anything so silly. If it’s an assistance animal and you call it a service animal, I will know exactly what you’re trying to tell me. I’m certain of it.
But please do go to Dictionary.com to learn the differences yourself. I don’t want to discourage any quest for knowledge.
Technology words enter our lexicon and seem to get added to dictionaries rapidly.
The entry for ratio has a new meaning in addition to the others we know. Suppose you post a link to an article you have written on Twitter. Twitter readers form a virtual horde to refute and attack what you have written. You have been ratioed.
One example of this concept was in 2018 when a New York professor wrote a story saying that Amazon should replace local libraries. His reasons were that localities wouldn’t have to spend tax money on such frivolity and that Amazon stock would soar. I’ll just say, “Wow.” People on Twitter answered with more choice words.
A sharent is a proud mother or father who posts lots of photos and a few too many details about their child on social media.
“Ella has a pear-shaped mole on her left buttock.”
A techlash is what happens when a tech company faces intense criticism for sharing users’ data. Last year, we learned that Facebook was mishandling data by not adequately protecting privacy. Facebook paid a $5 billion penalty.
And my favorite part of the updates: the words or phrases I never knew existed.
Hodophobia is the intense fear of traveling. It comes from the roots for road and fear. I’m happy to say I suffer from the polar opposite of hodophobia.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a psychology term. It’s the notion that someone who is bad at some skill doesn’t know it. In fact, this condition causes “a persistent inflation of estimated competence in self-assessments.”
Sadly, I know a few people who have this ailment.
And zhuzh means to make a small change to something to jazz it up a bit. It could be food, clothes or a room. The verb is often used with up.
I’m no star at fashion or home decorating, but I have been known to zhuzh up a carrot cake with candied walnuts. I know. Things get wild in the Kinlaw household.
Sources include Dictionary.com, Merriam-Webster, AP Stylebook, Mashable, The Daily Beast, The Guardian. Reach Bernadette at