OPINION | BRENDA LOOPER: Word to the nerd

With an actual chill in the air, I can finally say it's autumn, which is one of my favorite times of year, and not just because of the leaves turning and it being cold enough to start making cocoa and soup.

This time of year is Halloween, Christmas, and birthdays all in one for word nerds like me. We're getting really close to the time when major dictionaries choose their words of the year, and Lake Superior State University publishes its list of words to be banished from the English language.

But oh ... it's also when dictionary sites announce words added to the online versions of their dictionaries for the quarter. It makes me giddy just thinking about it.

And why not, when Merriam-Webster finally added "cromulent," meaning acceptable or satisfactory, and dating to the 1996 "Lisa the Iconoclast" episode of "The Simpsons." "Embiggen" from that same episode was added in 2018. So many words from the series have entered the lexicon over its 34 (!) seasons (d'oh, okely dokely, glavin, doodily, etc.), so it's nice to have dictionaries recognize how broad the use of several of them has become.

And here I'll remind you that dictionaries don't determine definitions; they merely record words commonly used and the meaning they have in usage. (Don't get me started on the "vaccine" kerfuffle, which was much ado over nothing, politicized to cause division; the definition was broadened, not changed, to take into account how mRNA vaccines work. The core definition stayed the same. Language evolves, and dictionaries record that evolution.)

In its "Help" section, Merriam-Webster.com notes that what gets words in the dictionary is usage: "To decide which words to include in the dictionary and to determine what they mean, Merriam-Webster editors study the language as it's used. They carefully monitor which words people use most often and how they use them.

"Each day most Merriam-Webster editors devote an hour or two to reading a cross-section of published material, including books, newspapers, magazines, and electronic publications ... . The editors scour the texts in search of new words, new usages of existing words, variant spellings, and inflected forms--in short, anything that might help in deciding if a word belongs in the dictionary, understanding what it means, and determining typical usage."

Editors gather citations of words and phrases in files, the dictionary notes. "To be included in a Merriam-Webster dictionary, a word must be used in a substantial number of citations that come from a wide range of publications over a considerable period of time. Specifically, the word must have enough citations to allow accurate judgments about its establishment, currency, and meaning."

Usually, as with cromulent, it takes a lot of time. But others make it in much quicker because of epidemics and pandemics or other big events that change the language, as with "AIDS" and "coronavirus" or "covid-19."

Cromulent was just one of the 690 new words and phrases and definitions added this go-around. Others included "UAP" (unidentified aerial phenomenon; sorry, I prefer UFO), "doggo" (Internet talk for a pupper ... er, dog), "beast mode" (extremely aggressive and/or energetic manner adopted temporarily to best an opponent; I remember this from someone who appeared both on "Survivor" and "Big Brother," and who used it almost to the point of annoyance), "zhuzh" (a small improvement/adjustment/addition that completes the overall aesthetic), and "chef's kiss" (kissing the fingertips of one hand, then spreading them outward in a sign of satisfaction or approval).

"Hallucination" gained a definition in the technology sense thanks to artificial intelligence: "a plausible but false or misleading response generated by an artificial intelligence algorithm." As with "vaccine," that doesn't change the overall definition, but just adds another sense in which it's used.

Merriam-Webster wasn't the only dictionary adding to its corpus this quarter. The Oxford English Dictionary added more than 1,000 new and revised words and phrases, among them "black site" (secret facility where covert military or intelligence operations are performed), "frontlash" (reaction to a backlash), "greater good" (advantage that accrues to the whole community rather than to an individual or subset), and "spidey sense" (do I really need to say what this is?).

Dictionary.com also added 566 new entries, 348 new definitions and 2,256 revised definitions, including "Blursday" (when all the days just seem to run together), and one that seems especially relevant now, "information pollution" (the introduction of falsehood, irrelevance, bias, and sensationalism into a source of information, resulting in a dilution or outright suppression of essential facts).

Information pollution reminds me of some wannabe edgelords (those who make wildly dark and exaggerated remarks with the intent to shock) on certain comment boards. What a coinkydink; Merriam-Webster added "edgelord" this go-around. (But not coinkydink yet, dang it.)

Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at blooper@adgnewsroom.com. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com.