Arguing the power of definitions and terminologies is an infertile attempt. One only needs to look at history to realize the power that words have had in the most influential civilizations’ foundations.
“Language is a marker of ethnic identity; a vehicle for expressing a distinct culture; a source of national cohesion; and an instrument for building political community,” explained the famous political scientist William Safran.
In the case of social revolutions, the impact is the same — if not more important.
Since the registration of its domain in 1995, Dictionary.com has been a fundamental instrument in the constant updating of language, with particular emphasis on new terminologies and discussions around orthography.
Based on the latest version of the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, and with content from the Collins English Dictionary, the American Heritage Dictionary, and others, its founders, Brian Kariger and Daniel Fierro, developed new platforms such as Thesaurus.com and Reference.com, and by 2015 they were already over 5.5 billion searches.
Thanks to its access to a growing source of traffic, Dictionary.com began its tradition of nominating one word per year, an effort that has gradually transformed into a mirror of American social and political reality.
Since 2010, the words have been “change,” “tergiversate,” “bluster,” “privacy,” “exposure,” “identity,” “xenophobia,” “complicit,” “misinformation,” and “existential.”
Can you identify the pattern?
Now, amid the new coronavirus pandemic, a political and social crisis around systemic racism, and just weeks before the presidential elections, Dictionary.com has announced the addition of 650 new entries, 2,100 new definitions, 1,200 new etymologies, 1,700 new pronunciations, over 11,000 revised definitions, and over 7,000 revised etymologies.
“[…] on top of the public health emergency and cultural upheaval, we’re in the midst of an economic crisis, gripped by educational uncertainty, and navigating a contentious presidential election, all while we see the devastating impact of the climate changing all around us. It seems our 2019 Word of the Year, existential, is more apt than ever,” the platform said in a statement.
“Change, no doubt, is a prevailing theme of 2020-and change is fundamental to the work of a dictionary.”
The new words incorporated, such as ecoanxiety, emotional support animal, MeToo, and even af (yes, that af), define “the culture, technology, and environment of our times.”
Dictionary.com goes further and, being consistent with social reality, has incorporated: capitalizing Black, Afro-Latino, and Afro-Latinx, and replaces “homosexual” with “gay, gay man, or gay woman,” distancing itself from the clinical connotation of the terminology.
It has also replaced commit suicide with die by suicide or end one’s life and revised several terminologies around addictions.
“Change is constant, a principle that’s true in language as in life,” the statement concludes. “No matter what is happening in the world, we’re committed to documenting and describing-and helping you stay informed on and, yes, sometimes entertained by-the English language as it evolves. Fifteen thousand entries updated. And counting.”