F-bomb and sexting make dictionary debut

Wellington: The term ‘F-bomb’ surfaced in newspapers more than 20 years ago but will only debut in the mainstream Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary on Wednesday, along with the words sexting, flexitarian, obesogenic, energy drink and life coach.

In total, the company picks about 100 additions for the 114-year-old dictionary’s annual update, gathering evidence of usage over several years in everything from media to the labels of beer bottles and boxes of frozen food.

Kory Stamper, an associate editor for Merriam-Webster, said she and her fellow word spies at the Massachusetts company traced the ‘F-bomb’ back to 1988, in a Newsday story that had the now-dead Mets catcher Gary Carter talking about how he had given them up, along with other swear words, Suff.co.nz reported.

But the word wasn’t really popular until the late ‘90s, after Bobby Knight heavily used the F-bombs during a locker room tirade.
“We saw another huge spike after Dick Cheney dropped an F-bomb in the Senate in 2004,” and again in 2010 when Vice President Joe Biden did the same thing in the same place, Stamper said.

“It’s a word that is very visually evocative. It’s not just the F-word. It’s F-bomb. You know that it’s going to cause a lot of consternation and possible damage,” she said.
Many online dictionary and reference sites have already listed F-bomb and some of the other entries that Merriam-Webster is only now putting into print.

A competitor, Oxford University Press, has kept F-bomb under consideration for a future update of its New Oxford American Dictionary but beat Merriam-Webster to print on a couple of other newcomers like: mash-up, added to the Oxford book in 2005, and cloud computing, that was included in 2010.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate gets a cover-to-cover overhaul every decade or so apart from the yearly upgrades.

The Springfield, Massachusetts-based Company also follows the tradition of picking a defining word of each year closer to Thanksgiving.

Among the company’s other additions this year, including online at Merriam-Webster.com, and various apps are Oprah-inspired “aha moment”, \Stephen King-popularised earworm, as in that truly torturous tune you can’t get out of your head, and man cave, brain cramp and bucket list.

“My friend the Longhair says that’s what you call songs that burrow into your head and commence chewing your brains. The dreaded earworm can turn even a great song into something you’d run from, screaming at the top of your lungs. If only you could,” he wrote.

Stamper explained that the word, a translation of the German ohrwurm, surfaced in English in the late `80s as a way to describe untranslatable words.

She said that as a tune that won’t leave your head, “It just solidified itself in the national linguistic consciousness in America.”
Merriam-Webster has found the first reference for “aha moment” dating to 1939 in a book of psychology. Its use was sporadic until the ‘90s, when Oprah began using it on her then famous TV chat show.

The word “tweet” led last year’s new-word highlights from Merriam-Webster. According to Stamper, this year’s additions are more eclectic.

“This is a list of really descriptive and evocative, fun words. Some years, not so fun. Some years it’s a lot of science words. Some years it’s a lot of words around really heavy topics,” she added.