Wednesday, July 11, 2007


I was pleased to see that one of my favorite English adjectives, 'ginormous', has made it into Merriam-Webster's new collegiate dictionary, along with words such as 'crunk' and 'smackdown'.

"There will be linguistic conservatives who will turn their nose up at a word like `ginormous,'" said John Morse, Merriam-Webster's president.

Not I!
"But it's become a part of our language. It's used by professional writers in mainstream publications. It clearly has staying power."

One of those naysayers is Allan Metcalf, a professor of English at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., and the executive secretary of the American Dialect Society.

"A new word that stands out and is ostentatious is going to sink like a lead balloon," he said. "It might enjoy a fringe existence."

I don't know. From my observation, it seems to be becoming more common. Besides, neologisms are fun. Just ask Aeschylus.

But I didn't realize that the word had actually been around for a little while:
But Merriam-Webster traces ginormous back to 1948, when it appeared in a British dictionary of military slang. And in the past several years, its use has become, well, ginormous.

It was, moreover, urged on the dictionary by popular opinion, which is, it seems, how new coinages pass into popular speech.
Visitors to the Springfield-based dictionary publisher's Web site picked "ginormous" as their favorite word that's not in the dictionary in 2005, and Merriam-Webster editors have spotted it in countless newspaper and magazine articles since 2000.

That's essentially the criteria for making it into the collegiate dictionary — if a word shows up often enough in mainstream writing, the editors consider defining it.

But the fastidious can still avoid it if they want:
But as editor Jim Lowe puts it: "Nobody has to use `ginormous' if they don't want to."

For the record, he doesn't.

But I do!

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