Dictionaries are not normally considered hotbeds of innovation,
but recent moves by Merriam-Webster have other publishers scrambling
to keep up.
"We realized that we were behind the curve when the US Department
of Justice declared Microsoft a monopoly, but at the same time gave
them no more than a slap on the wrist, indicating that monopoly surely
doesn't mean the same thing it did, say, in 1984. This is why, in
the spirit of Microsoft, we here at Merriam-Webster practice lexical
innovation," stated Simon Murray, Associate Editor.
"Monopoly" which now means "a quiet meadow" wasn't
the only victim of innovation. Other terms such as "embrace", "extend", "unfair" and
even "innovation" itself have been redefined. The new definitions
appearing in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary XP are
part of a company strategy to spur new dictionary sales.
"We'd rather be proactive than reactive to changes in the language.
When you let common people on the street coin new terms and redefine
existing words, you get terms like 'phat' and 'da bomb. Now we can
let the experts define how we speak and live," said Murray. "He
also noted that they plan to publish a new version every year with
hundreds of redefined terms. They also plan to release dictionary
patches on a monthly basis to correct terms defined incorrectly and
to redefine others.
"We just don't have the authors and editors to keep up," said
Jeanie Rahaim of the American Heritage Dictionary. "Even though
it doesn't mean this any more we think this is 'unfair'. I think
Merriam-Webster calls it 'tough shit' now."
Stock analyst Allan Slaybaugh who follows the publishing industry
for Bear Stearns said, "This is a great move. People normally
buy dictionaries once or twice in a lifetime. By changing the definitions
of words on a yearly basis they constantly require people to upgrade
or face being misunderstood."
The publisher of The New Oxford American Dictionary protested, "That's
not innovation. I don't think they know the meaning of the word."
Murray retorted, "Au contraire, mon frere. That's exactly what
it means see right here." Murray pointed to the open dictionary
on his desk.
innovation - n. A change in definition. See Merriam-Webster.
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