from The Nightmare House
written by Sarah Allen
illustrations by Angie Hewitt
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2023
My older daughter’s first word was book, a book full of words, no doubt. And from about age 6 months, she knew how important words could be. They always elicited smiles and conversation. Sometimes they helped her get what she wanted or needed. Cookies, music, cuddles. She talked pretty much non-stop, but it was the opposite of debilitating. I loved the sound of her little voice trying hard to pronounce names of food, friends, lists of facts. Pronouns were a small problem for a while, but we sorted that out.
My younger daughter is a librarian, surrounding herself daily with words. My mom was a kind of a word-nerd. I think she liked grammar more, but I grew up surrounded with words. (No four-letter ones, though. Mom had her limits.)
At the end of every year, lots of dictionaries try to sum up the main events in one word or a simple phrase. This year is no different.
Collins Dictionary (thesaurus and reference materials) has been publishing for over 200 years and is well-known in the education field. It’s now online and free. They even put out a blog where you can find lots of word-related discussions in English and other languages, too.
The Guardian reported Collins named AI as the most notable word of 2023. “It was chosen,” the publisher continued, “because the word ‘has accelerated at such a fast pace and [has] become the dominant conversation of 2023.’”
The Cambridge Dictionary named hallucinate as its Word. In a year of ChatGPT, Bard, and other platforms that use large language models (LLMs), hallucinate has come to mean false information (not really similar to “fake news”). Cambridge has defined false information as what happens when an artificial intelligence hallucinates. In that sense, it’s like when people see, hear, feel, or smell something that does not exist. I guess a machine can jump to a false conclusion, too.
Merriam-Webster’s word for 2023 is authenticity. Ahead of yesterday’s announcement Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large, noted , “[w]e see in 2023 a kind of crisis of authenticity.” “What we realize is that when we question authenticity, we value it even more.”
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) will announce its winner after a public vote of its eight ballot choices. You can participate here. Just click on the one(s) most meaningful and await the results. Click on as many as you like, but be sure to click by the end of Thursday, November 30, 2023. The announcement will be made Monday, December 4, 2023.
Lots of dictionaries choose their Words of the Year by calculating the number of times a word has been looked up. Usually they notice a spike around news events. Remember unprecedented? Dictionary.com named it Word of the Year, 2020.
The words in the first English dictionary were collected and defined by Samuel Johnson. According to Cambridge.org.., Johnson’s was not the chronological first. Dozens of dictionaries appeared in the century and a half before 1775, when Johnson published his. Samuel Johnson’s dictionary was the most useful, though, because of his innovations. He chose words used in works by English authors. He added numbered definitions that sorted words by their subtle meanings. He used extensive quotes as usage examples. It’s considered the standard work, but language is a living entity. It changes.
Words are added and dropped by dictionary editors, lexicographers all, when a new word is noticed in the common vernacular, when a words changes or add meanings, or when a word falls out of use. Nowadays, computers generate lists from huge databases that calculate and collate continuously. The OED online is updated quarterly.
I remember back in the olden days, a supplement was added to the dictionary to keep it current. Published between 1972 and 1986, and under the direction of Robert Burchfield, a new editor, “a fresh cohort of staff … once again solicited the help of readers.” (OED.com) The four-volume Supplement contained 5,750 pages.
A CD-ROM of the First Edition was produced in 1987, and in 1992 the Second Edition was also published on a single compact disc. Instead of 20 volumes taking up several shelves and weighing in at over 150 lbs, people could use the dictionary differently.
In 2000, OEDonline was launched and was completely remodeled this year, 2023. Its updates can be accessed with a mouse-click.
I keep a list of unusual and fun-to-say words. Here are some (in alphabetical order).
You might have a list, too.
According to the OED, our English language has one of the largest vocabularies on the planet. Their estimate clocks us in at over 170,000.
I just started reading The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Life in Native America by David Treuer (Viking, 2019). The author calls his book a “counternarrative” to Dee Brown's classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1970). Treuer, a native Ojibwa, tells where the people who survived the massacre came from (spoiler, they were right here for tens of thousands of years) and what has happened to them since. I’m looking forward to an interesting read.
--Be curious! (and choose interesting words)