- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Merriam-Webster has rolled out its annual update of words and phrases the planet simply cannot do without: civil union, SARS, chick flick, bikini wax, DHS, brain freeze, hazmat, Wi-Fi, among 100 others deemed worthy of inclusion in the new Collegiate Dictionary.

“The list is pretty typical. It runs the gamut from popular culture to technical stuff,” said Tom Pitoniak, an editor at the Massachusetts-based company that has been publishing dictionaries since 1843.

Those who follow political nuances may be interested to note that “neoconservative” has garnered some notice this time around with the inclusion of this official addendum:

“Neoconservative (noun): a conservative who advocates the assertive promotion of democracy and U.S. national interest in international affairs including through military means.”

The word’s original definition was a little less feisty, reading: “a former liberal espousing political conservatism” in previous editions of the dictionary.

Establishing a new sense of a word is not always simple, Mr. Pitoniak said.

“It became clear that a new meaning had developed for neoconservative over time, migrating away from the classical leftist ideology that the word began with, and towards the later definition set forth by Irving and William Kristol,” he added.

Other words have had a little bolstering as well. “Chatter,” for instance, has been retooled for a more threatening world.

No longer confined to the conversation heard, say, at a ladies’ luncheon, the definition now includes this phrase: “Electronic and especially radio communication between individuals engaged in a common or related form of activity; also, such chatter regarding future hostile activity.”

“Advance” has a little more oomph as well. Dictionaries will include this addition: “going or situated before” — as in a party of soldiers.

Merriam-Webster editors are on the constant lookout to refresh their dictionary, which has sold more than 55 million copies and contains 225,000 words. In a daily task called “reading and marking,” the editors spend an hour or two rifling through newspapers, magazines, books and online publications, seeking new words, new inflections, new spellings.

A word that turns up in persistent, widespread usage can make the cut.

Still, the editors say they typically receive several letters a day from would-be etymologists who either want a word deleted from the dictionary for one reason or another or have coined a term and want some validation.

Other samples from the 2005 crop? Well, there’s amuse-bouche, battle dress uniform, hospitalist, cybrarian, metadata, retronym, steganography, tide pool, workout, otology and zaibatsu.

But the company is coy about revealing all its words at once. It’s a competitive business, what with Oxford, Funk & Wagnalls and other publishers also sniffing out cutting-edge entries for their own dictionaries.

Just 22 were released yesterday. All can be seen online at www.m-w.com.

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