One word, please: Axion, buppie and other words that have not stood the test of time


People who make dictionaries have a difficult job. The hard part: knowing which new words have taken up enough space in the language to gain space in the dictionary.

It’s difficult because they don’t call the shots. You are. Lexicographers spend all day looking for new words and new ways to use old words. They search different “corpus” or linguistic databases, to see how often the terms appear. Then they try to assess whether the word has taken root enough to merit a place in the dictionary.

Often they are right. Other times, words don’t quite have the endurance that lexicographers expect. Here are some unsuccessful dictionary additions.

Crisphead (1966): In a year when “acidhead”, “blitzed”, “quaalude”, “druggie”, “headshop”, “meth” and “hallucinant” entered Merriam-Webster, “crisphead Probably sounded like a groovy new addition to the English language. But did we really need another word for iceberg lettuce? Apparently not. According to Google’s Ngram Viewer tool, which counts how often words appear in books, “crisphead” peaked (if you will) in the late 1980s and usage has declined by around 85% since then. .

Hahnium (1970): Four years later, it seems that the English language has descended from his journey. “Clonazepam”, “clotrimazole”, “clozapine”, “cognitive therapy” and “comorbidity”, as well as “medicalize”, “miconazole”, “microaggression”, “obesogenic” and “T cell” have taken their place in the dictionary to reflect the new sense of sobriety of the language. Also in Merriam’s class of 1970 there was a new synonym for dubnium, a short-lived radioactive element that apparently did not need another name. “Hahnium,” a word for dubnium, gained popularity for a while, but fell in the 1990s.

Axion (1978): At the end of the 1970s, science was still causing a stir in the discourse of Americans. “Bioenergy”, “bitmap”, “campylobacteriosis”, “free electron laser”, “gene splicing”, “information technology” and “nanostructure” took place at Merriam-Webster. But not all scientific concepts had lasted. “Axion”, which stands for “a hypothetical low mass and energy subatomic particle that is believed to exist due to certain properties of the strong force”, peaked in popularity in 1988, then crashed 76% in 2019 .

Buppie: (1986): Hey, do you remember the 80’s when people thought jeans should be acid washed and Eddie Murphy was a singer? Acreage and self-indulgence roared back, bringing in dictionary entries like “golden parachute”, “infomercial” and “crony capitalism” (1981) and “wine blush”, “spendthrift” and “horndog” ( 1984), followed by “stress ball”, “stepper” and “unibrow” (1988). But unlike the 1981 hit “yuppie,” the 1984 follow-up, “buppie,” meaning a yuppie that was also black, didn’t take off in the tongue, appearing only 1% as often as “yuppie” to its climax.

Digerati (1992): Do you think the 90s were just “meh”? In fact, the new words of the decade show it was a far more transformative time than your memories of Macarena suggest. “Augmented reality”, “hacktivism”, “EVOO” (for extra virgin olive oil) “,” cytokine storm “and” meh “itself, which were all added in 1992, seem downright premonitory today. ‘hui. Even the 1991 “zoodle”, which means zucchini noodles, is becoming more and more popular every year. Back then, you had to bet that the “digerati” had a bright future. But no, that name means a person well versed in computers, peaked in popularity just before the turn of the century, when he fell off a cliff.

The New Millennium: Many words have been added since 2000 and it’s unclear which ones will fade into obscurity. “Bromance” and “twerking” (2001), “borked” (2002), “sapiosexual” (2004), “copypasta” (2006), “fatberg” (2008), “jegging” (2009), “escape room” (2012), “manspreading” (2014) and “non-fungible token” (2017) all seem to be heading for the chopping block. But only time will tell.

June Casagrande is the author of “The Joy of Syntax: A Simple Guide to All the Grammar You Know You Should Know”. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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