South Jersey woman is gatekeeper for adding words to dictionary

Man cave. Sexting. Bucket list. Those are just some of the new words being added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

When it comes to adding new words to the dictionary, who decides what makes the cut and what doesn’t? 

One of those people is Kory Stamper. She spends her days hunting down new words and fine-tuning new definitions from her home in Collingswood, New Jersey as a lexicographer for Merriam-Webster.

Stamper says there’s more to it than meaning. “A word needs widespread, general usage and it typically needs a long shelf-life,” she said.

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Proving that can take decades. Take the word “F-bomb” which has been around since the 80s, but exploded in usage when Vice Presidents Dick Cheney and Joe Biden dropped them on the mic. But Stamper says it doesn’t matter who’s saying it.

“If I’m reading transcribed text with a homeless guy, and he uses ‘F-bomb,’ that has just as much weight as Joe Biden saying that he dropped an F-bomb. For the lexicographer, language is really democratic. We take it from all walks of life,” said Stamper.

But if a word is going to fizzle out soon, it won’t be added.

“It’s much easier to put a word into the dictionary than it is to remove a word from the dictionary,” she said.

Some of the words they’re considering for the next revision are “freegan,” “slow food” and “two-way authentication.”

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