Linguist, lexicographer, radio host, public speaker

New words and how to get them in the dictionary

I just had another in a long series of conversations about how to get a word in the dictionary. Sigh. There was a misunderstanding, as always.

This phone call went as they usually do: somebody has coined a word, they think it’s really spiffy, they want to get it in “The Dictionary,” and they call me thinking I work for “Webster’s,” and they want me to put their spiffy word in “The Dictionary.”

I don’t work for Webster’s, there’s no such dictionary company (although there are companies that include “Webster’s” in their names), and the way you get a word in “The dictionary” is by using it a lot and encouraging everyone else to use it, too. After it’s successful, lexicographers will consider including it. They don’t include brand-new words in mainstream American dictionaries. There’s not enough room and nearly all supposedly spiffy new words suck.

Also, there’s no such thing as “The Dictionary,” as I explain at length here.

Furthermore, if you call somebody and ask how to get a word in the dictionary and then you won’t tell them what the word is because they “might steal it,” well, what can I say? You’re going to get exactly nowhere. You have to set it free. If your word is truly spiffy, then it will survive and might show up in a dictionary one day—but probably not with your name, or anyone’s, attached.

You cannot get paid every time someone uses a word. You also cannot copyright or patent a word. You can trademark it, however, but then you’ll have no chance of getting it in a dictionary unless it’s a trademark for a fabulously popular must-have product that becomes a generic name for the whole product category.

So, if you’re looking for fame, this isn’t the way. I suggest a rifle and a belltower being very, very good-looking instead. Or a chess champion. Or the world’s best plumber. ANYTHING else.

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Grant Barrett