How to Get a New Word in the Dictionary

by | Jan 25, 2010 12:26 PM ET

If you flip to page 141 in the 11th edition Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and look on the right column, you'll see the word “bonnyclabber” (thick, soured milk) followed by “bonobo” (a type of ape). Someday, I'd like to crack open a future edition of said dictionary and see a new word nestled between those previous entries.

What word, you ask?

Bono. Yes, “bono,” as in a slang term for cool or hip. Why? Because what's cooler than an aging Irishman with a God complex who refuses to take off his sunglasses indoors? Answer: not much.

Over the past few months, I've been trying to plant little “bono” seeds here and there, casually referring to some “bono” show that I went to, or when a friend asks how I like her new haircut, I immediately respond “girl, it's so bono.” I've even tasked a New York pal of mine to spread the good word among Brooklyn hipsters always on the lookout for the freshest jargon to Tweet.

Not surprisingly, getting “bono” into the dictionary is going to take considerable effort. Every day, Merriam Webster editors spend time searching for new words that pop up in a variety of publications. Once editors spot terms that have dictionary potential, they create citation files for each of them, which include the words, their definitions and sources. MW has been collecting citation files since the 1880s and now has a catalogue of more than 15.7 million word contenders.

Next, MW editors will go over certain parts of the dictionary that require updating, and citation files with broad, well-established usage might make the cut. Of course, new entries have a better chance of showing up in unabridged editions than smaller publications like the Collegiate Dictionary. In 2009, MW accepted words including “locavore,” “webisode” and “frenemy” into the fold.

The Oxford English Dictionary employs a similar word-finding method, with a team of around 50 staffers dedicated to hunting them down. To evaluate a citation's worthiness, they often rely on a rule of 5s. If a word shows up five times in five different sources over five years, it can be considered for entry in the OED.

If you're a logophile wishing to keep abreast of new slang on the horizon, I highly recommend Schott's Vocab blog from the New York Times. It's totally bono.

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