That’s Moby Dickulous! Collins Dictionary Crowdsources New Words

July 27, 2012

11:00 am

Amidst the hoolyhalley of the party, a young Twitterati was seen shmoodling with a technoramus, explaining the ins and outs of techtiquette while batting her loveaceous lashes.

If armchair lexicographers have their way, all those words could make it into the Collins Dictionary. Collins (a division of HarperCollins) is in the midst of a new crowdsourcing initiative, which lets anyone submit new words. Here are some examples:

  • floordrobe: A pile of clothes on the floor that you’re forced to select an item from, when you’ve run out of fresh laundry.
  • meetingoritis: An obsessive desire to arrange, conduct and/or attend meetings.
  • carmageddon: A state of extreme traffic congestion. Popularized in July 2011 when Los Angeles shut down a 10-mile stretch of one of the country’s busiest freeways for 53 hours.
  • hangry: The irrational irritation one gets when he or she is hungry.
  • smexy: A word used to describe someone who is both smart and sexy.

The Scottish editors at Collins will spend weeks reviewing these words. They start by searching for mentions in the “Collins corpus,” a collection of 4.5 billion words of text from newspapers, fiction, radio, and online sources in English-speaking countries around the world. Key factors include frequency, different uses, how old the word is, and whether it’s limited to a small niche.

Words that make the cut will be immortalized on CollinsDictionary.com, with a credit to the original submitter.

“We’ve always been aiming to have as live and current a snapshot of English as possible,” says Alex Brown, head of digital at HarperCollins.

Traditionally, editors themselves are the ones to suggest new words. From such an established, old-media institution like HarperCollins, this is a recognition of the power of the crowd and Internet culture. And that’s awesomesauce.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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