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F-bomb makes it into mainstream dictionary
NEW YORK — It’s about freakin’ time.
The term “F-bomb” surfaced in newspapers more than 20 years ago but will land Tuesday for the first time in the mainstream Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, along with sexting, flexitarian, obesogenic, energy drink and life coach.
In all, the company picks about 100 additions for the 114-year-old dictionary’s annual update, gathering evidence of usage over several years in everything from media to the labels of beer bottles and boxes of frozen food.
So who’s responsible for lobbing F-bomb far and wide? Kory Stamper, an associate editor for Merriam-Webster, said she and her fellow word spies at the Massachusetts company traced it back to 1988, in a Newsday story that had the now-dead Mets catcher Gary Carter talking about how he had given them up, along with other profanities.
But the word didn’t really take off until the late ‘90s, after Bobby Knight went heavy on the F-bombs during a locker room tirade.
“It’s a word that is very visually evocative. It’s not just the F-word. It’s F-bomb. You know that it’s going to cause a lot of consternation and possible damage,” she said.
Many online dictionary and reference sites already list F-bomb and other entries Merriam-Webster is only now putting into print. A competitor, Oxford University Press, has F-bomb under consideration for a future update of its New Oxford American Dictionary but beat Merriam-Webster to print on a couple of other newcomers: mash-up, added to the Oxford book in 2005, and cloud computing, included in 2010.
No worries, Stamper said. The dictionary biz isn’t a race.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate gets a cover-to-cover overhaul every decade or so in addition to yearly upgrades. The Springfield, Mass.-based company also picks a defining word of each year closer to Thanksgiving. Among the company’s other additions this year, including online at Merriam-Webster.com, and various apps:
The Oprah-inspired “aha moment,” the Stephen King-popularized earworm, as in that truly torturous tune you can’t get out of your head, and man cave, brain cramp and bucket list.
King, in a 2009 column for Entertainment Weekly headlined “The Trouble With Earworms,” wrote of waking up in the middle of the night for a glass of water when he found himself singing a snippet of a lyric.
“My friend the Longhair says that’s what you call songs that burrow into your head and commence chewing your brains. The dreaded earworm can turn even a great song into something you’d run from, screaming at the top of your lungs. If only you could,” he wrote.
Stamper said the word, a translation of the German ohrwurm, surfaced in English in the late ‘80s as a way to describe untranslatable words. As a tune that won’t leave your head, “It just solidified itself in the national linguistic consciousness in America,” she said.
Earworm isn’t actually a new word for Merriam-Webster but the definition is to differentiate from the once-sole description of a specific blight on ears of corn.
By Tom Fitton
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