Seven long years ago, word nerds worldwide were either jazzed or all het up due to Merriam-Webster’s 11th Edition Collegiate Dictionary. The big news has to do with the 97 new words (I promise, I won’t list them all).
The biggest splash was made by – what a surprise – the most titillating words of the bunch: sexting & f-bomb. I agree that these words are notable, but I find myself most intrigued by comparing the dates the “new” words were first introduced to the language to the years they made it into the dictionary.
The following “new” words were coined from 2000-2007:
These “new” words hail from the 1990s:
It took these words from the ‘70s & ‘80s over thirty years to be acknowledged:
But take a look at the patience of these mighty words:
1959 – tipping point
1939 – aha moment
1919 – gassed
1904 – energy drink
1859 – mash-up
1802 – earworm
So, fellow lovers of language, what words do you suggest have been waiting long enough in the usage queue to make it to the next edition of Merriam-Webster?.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, The Mercury News, The LA Times & The Washington Post
An earworm is a cognitively infectious musical agent, more informally known as one of those annoying tunes that you can’t get out of your mind.
Though earworms have haunted me my whole life, I promise to refrain from providing lists of likely tunes that will haunt you forever. The word earworm has interested me since it was first introduced to me some time in the late 1960s by an aunt who grew up in Germany during the 40s and 50s.
Only a few years ago, most dictionary and etymology websites clearly credited James Kellaris, a Milwaukee professor, with the coinage of the word in 2001 (e.g. this AP story by Rachel Kipp). Others, like this Wikipedia article, credited Robert Frietag (a well-traveled primary teacher) for bringing the term to English in 1993. These Frietag & Kellaris claims curdled my cheese because (thanks to my Aunt Inge) my pals and I have been enjoying the word since I shared it at Columbus Junior High over four decades ago.
Today, a search for earworm etymology will produce over 40,000 hits. Thankfully, in the last year, many etymologists have dug a bit deeper, & while praising Kellaris’s research on the phenomenon of the earworm, have de-bunked the myth that he coined the word. I find no arguments debunking the Frietag origin, but I’m, pleased to say that at long last, most etymologists see earworm as a simple translation from the German word ohrwurm.
Confusing the issue is the fact that the German word ohrwurm also refers to dermaptera, the lowly earwig, a nasty little bug which has a tendency to make many of us squirm & whose name has inspired stories about earwigs climbing into people’s ears. The whole issue was likely further confused by a practice popular in “ancient times” (I can’t find where), of drying and grinding up dermaptera, then inserting the powder into infected ears as a medical treatment.
So I say bravo & brava to hundreds of hard-working etymologists, to Merriam Webster’s Eleventh Edition, & of course, Aunt Inge, for the word earworm.
Good blogophiles, feel free to comment on all this hoopla, or share one of your most annoying, most invasive earworm tunes.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymoniline.com, Blue Harvest Forum, Word Origins.org, Wordspy.com, Wiktionary, & Dictionary.com
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.