New Words in the Dictionary

One thing about this job – I’m never at a loss for stuff to read. I have news articles, stories, and press releases coming to me constantly throughout the day. Emails, text messages, social media – even actual letters and stories given to me by friends – there is ALWAYS plenty of reading material. Often, it’s very informative – city council meetings, football stats, a planned high school reunion, new tax rates. Sometimes it’s sad – obituaries, death notices, fatal car crashes. Maybe it’s happy news – somebody’s birthday or engagement, or a golden anniversary celebration.

Occasionally, it’s many things all in one – informative, interesting, and even fun. Such as one story I saw the other day about the new words that the publishers at Merriam-Webster have “officially” recognized as part of the ever-changing English language. In fact, there are 370 new entries for September 2022.

Some of these aren’t exactly “new,” but they represent a word or phrase that has moved from only being used in a limited way by a particular industry, and into more general usage. For example, “supply chain” is now in the dictionary – “the chain of processes, businesses, etc. by which a commodity is produced and distributed: the companies, materials, and systems involved in manufacturing and delivering goods.”

Science often contributes new phrases. This year, “dawn chorus” has been included, meaning “the singing of wild birds that closely precedes and follows sunrise, especially in spring and summer.” Another is “atmospheric river” – “a concentrated band of water vapor that flows through the atmosphere and that is a significant part of the global hydrologic cycle and an important source of regional precipitation.” Got that?

Sometimes they are words that are made up to fit a modern situation. “Shrinkflation” is one such entry – not long ago, it didn’t even exist. Now, according to Webster, it means, “the practice of reducing a product’s amount or volume per unit while continuing to offer it at the same price.” Same size can or package, same price, but less product in the package. That’s shrinkflation.

(That gets me to thinking about a term from the 1970s – “stagflation.” Anybody else remember that word? Don’t hear it much anymore. Thank goodness.)

Economic-related issues contributed several new words for this year. Many of us have long been familiar with the phrase, “side hustle,” but now it has its own listing as, “work performed for income supplementary to one’s primary job.” Another is “altcoin” – “any of various cryptocurrencies that are regarded as alternatives to established cryptocurrencies and especially to Bitcoin.” Because that’s easier to understand than a “non-fungible token.”

Here’s one that seems especially appropriate for this time of year – “pumpkin spice.” Yep, that’s right. That seasonal taste that some people love while others love to hate it, now has its own listing in the dictionary. “A mixture of usually cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and often allspice that is commonly used in pumpkin pie.” And everything else under the sun, it seems, from September through December.

Words taken from current events are always popular. This year saw several words and phrases related to Covid make the list. “False positive” and “false negative” were both included, along with “emergency use authorization.” And don’t forget “booster dose” and “subvariant.”

Slang words often make the transition into the officially accepted canon. This year, “janky” was included, meaning, “of very poor quality.” Also “baller” – “excellent, exciting, or extraordinary, especially in a way that is suggestive of a lavish lifestyle.” Sometimes words can have their meanings expanded from a verb into a noun – “cringe” is an example of that for this year. And remember the TV show, “MacGyver”? That name has now been recognized as a verb, meaning “to make, form or repair something with what is conveniently on hand.”

And let’s not leave out popular abbreviations. Added to the list for this year are “ICYMI” – “In case you missed it,” and “FWIW” – “For what it’s worth.”

So, be careful the next time you have to MacGyver something, and don’t make it too janky. FWIW.

So Costly a Sacrifice

November 21, 1864: Lincoln (allegedly) writes a letter of condolence to a Mrs. Bixby of Massachusetts, whom he was told had lost five sons in the war.bixby_letter

This letter is one of the most powerful compositions I have ever read.  The language and the images move me to tears ever time I read it.  Of course, as it turns out, there are some corrections to the story:

  • Mrs. Bixby herself was a Southern sympathizer.
  • She had lost two sons in battle, not five. (As if having “only” two sons killed was no big deal.)
  • Some modern historians don’t think Lincoln actually wrote it, but rather, his secretary, John Hay.

101PoemsNone of which diminishes the majesty of this prose and the incredible command of the English language.  I fell in love with this letter a long time ago, when I literally found a copy in a little book, in a pile of trash in the closet of an old house we were cleaning out.  (Anybody else remember, “His Place”?)  The book was an anthology called “One Hundred and One Famous Poems, with a Prose Supplement.”  Not exactly an elegant title, but a great collection, none the less.

I was a Freshman at DCC, and just beginning to appreciate the power of language, and here was a brilliant example.  Movie fans will also note that this letter was used in “Saving Private Ryan.”


Executive Mansion,

Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

To Mrs. Bixby, Boston, Mass.

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln

Thank you, Mr. President.