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The Present

Yeet! As society changes, the dictionary gets weirder

English is a dynamic language, and this summer's new additions to dictionary.com tell us a lot about how we're living.

Pixabay via Pexels

Key Takeaways
  • The summer update to Dictionary.com added hundreds of new words and definitions.
  • Many of them are in areas related to justice, technology, and COVID-19.
  • The new slang terms will leave more than a few people confused.

In any given year, new words are added to the dictionary to reflect how society’s use of them has changed, often in response to ongoing events. For Summer 2021, more than 1200 new, improved, and revised definitions were introduced to Dictionary.com, including 231 entirely new words. A review of those words, the subjects they cover, and the stories behind their creation tells a rich story about the times we live in.

A word by any other definition?

You might wonder why we need to carry out such extensive addition and redefining campaigns. John Kelly, the Managing Editor of Dictionary.com, explained in a statement why these changes were made and their importance:

“The latest update to our dictionary continues to mirror the world around us. Long COVID, minoritize, 5G, content warning, domestic terrorism — it’s a complicated and challenging society we live in, and language changes to help us grapple with it. But sometimes language changes just for fun. Yes, yeet is now in the dictionary, which may prompt some of us to use one other of our new entries: oof! Perhaps these lighter slang and pop culture newcomers to our dictionary reflect another important aspect of our time — a cautious optimism and a brighter mood about the future ahead after a trying 2020.”

The English language isn’t static, so it is up to lexicographers to get the dictionaries up to speed. Let’s face it, we might need more than a few new words to talk about last year.

The times they are a-changin’

Good Communication 101: Mirroring, Jargon, Hifalutin Words | Alan Alda | Big Thinkwww.youtube.com

Words that describe the continuing COVID-19 pandemic are still being added. The recent additions, which include long haul and long hauler may speak to the shift in how we interact with the pandemic — it is now a long-term rather than an acute concern for many people. Changes to our lives as a result of the pandemic and new ways to cater to those challenges, like ghost kitchen and side hustle, also made their way in.

In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed, Americans searched for terms related to racial issues at significantly higher levels than before. This not only called for updates and additions to words in this area last year but a continuing review, which has added new terms like the acronyms JEDI and DEI and the new word one-drop rule. Other terms long included, like Jim Crow and Black Codes, saw updates this summer.

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Technology continued to advance through thick and thin as well. Terms like 5G, asynchronous, and abandonware made it into the recent update. Given how much time we all spent using tech in the last year and a half, it is only fitting that we would need these terms. 5G also has the unfortunate distinction of being both a telecommunications technology and a target for conspiracy theorists, perhaps making a dictionary entry for it all the more important.

Other words previously defined as regional or cultural in nature have been redefined in the light of their evolving use. Y’all is now listed as its own term and deemed an “informal” pronoun rather than a mere variant of “you-all.” The post explaining the update noted that the term is now more known for informality than regionalism and has enjoyed a surge in use as a gender neutral pronoun.

Newfangled slang

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Perhaps it is necessary that after a year that required so many of the above words to be added or clarified, there are new slang terms that will seem like absolute gibberish to somebody disconnected from popular culture. New words like yeet, zaddy, and oof were added this year, showing that even in difficult times, fun new ways to use language are cropping up all the time.

The website’s lexicographers also saw fit to officially add one of the honorable mentions for 2020’s word of the year to the list of vulgar slang terms. Regrettably, it is unfit for publication, but it rhymes with spit-snow.

So, now that y’all know about these updates, perhaps we can all order from the new ghost kitchen from apps on our 5G smartphones before getting back to our side hustles. Yeet!


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