A new initative by Collins dictionaries could change the way that dictionaries are compiled forever. The company is asking members of the public to submit words to be considered for future editions.
Submission is clearly not a guarantee of success – all suggested words are put through the same rigorous assessment that a word selected by an editor would then undergo. But the amount of coverage this story has received, together with the number of words being suggested, shows just how interested people are in the evolution of English and the new words that are constantly emerging.
It is also encouraging to see some of the words being suggested, with Wordability favourites such as omnishambles and Tebowing battling with cyberstalking, amazeballs and mantyhose for attention. At this stage, nobody knows how many of these will finally be accepted. But if they are, it will prove that the acceptance process is becoming as quick as it needs to be in the age of the internet.
The level of interest has been something of a surprise to Alex Brown, the head of digital at Harper Collins. Wordability spoke to him shortly after the launch of the What’s Your Word initiative, and during the conversation, the 2,000th word was submitted. It was prairiedogged, the feeling of helplessness that overtakes you when co-workers in neighbouring cubicles constantly pop their heads up to ask you trivial, silly or frivolous questions. It was subsequently rejected by editors.
Its rejection confirms that this is still serious dictionary-making, with the submission process the only part which has been opened up. Alex told me: “This isn’t Urban Dictionary. We still have a team of editors and researchers who moderate to see if the words meet the minimum level of criteria and we are not changing that as we see it as a strength. The site opens a window on that whole process.”
He said that while they expected to receive words from technology and social media, there have been some surprises. “We have been surprised by the number of regional dialect words, and some of them are difficult to find evidence of because they are spoken not written. The global nature has also been a surprise, with quite a lot of words from India, for example, which are concepts around religion or food.”
Alex said that What’s Your Word will now be a permanent feature of the Collins process. At the moment, words which are approved still have to wait a few weeks to receive their dictionary stripes, but in time, he would like to see that process made live.
One of the advantages of this process is that words can now reach dictionaries quicker. I have often bemoaned how slow the Oxford English Dictionary is to accept new words, and while Collins will still have the final say, What’s Your Word will perform the vital process of recognising that language change itself has changed, and that the dictionary process needs to evolve along with that.