Ben Zimmer has a wonderful takedown of the Telegraph story you may have seen: “Secret vault of words rejected by the Oxford English Dictionary uncovered.” An excerpt:

Looking deeper into the list, I felt a creeping sense of déjà vu. It turns out that a healthy majority of the entries come from a single source. In 2005, Merriam-Webster asked users of its online dictionary, “What’s your favorite word that’s not in the dictionary?” It compiled a top ten list (and later, with much fanfare, announced that the top vote-getter, ginormous, would enter the next edition of the Collegiate Dictionary). Beyond the top ten, Merriam-Webster provided a list of “Previous Favorite Words (Not in the Dictionary).” Of the 39 words listed by the Telegraph, a whopping 27 of them — from asphinxiation (“being sick to death of unanswerable puzzles or riddles”) to wurfing (“the act of surfing the Internet while at work”) — come from Merriam-Webster’s 2005 selection of “previous favorite words.”
Of the remaining words on the Telegraph list, some (such as freegan, griefer, and nonversation) have their own entries in Merriam-Webster’s Open Dictionary, an ongoing compendium of user-generated suggestions. A few others have actually achieved dictionary status already. Earworm, locavore, and pharming can all be found in the latest edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary.

Ah, journalism! Ah, humanity!


  1. The Daily Telegraph is well known for being a crap, deeply-conservative newspaper. Most of my older relatives bought it. It did have quite a good cryptic crossword, but I don’t like crosswords. Ben would do much better reading the Guardian.

  2. Yes, I believe they call it the “Torygraph.”

  3. On a more serious note, one English word whose non-inclusion in dictionaries I find extremely puzzling is the verb “to increment.” All English dictionaries I’ve ever checked, including the OED, list “increment” only as a noun, even though it has been frequently used as a verb in technical literature for many decades. A quick search of Google Books shows examples of such usage reaching way back into the 19th century.

  4. to increment
    Interesting. You probably noticed that it’s in an OED quotation for program counter, so it may just be a matter of them catching up to the I’s, since they’re pretty careful about that.
    What was the earliest you found? It’s in an 1855 translation of Kant, as a pretty clunky rendering of the original , “Erfahrung ist selbst eine solche Synthesis der Wahrnehmungen, welche meinen Begriff, den ich vermittelst einer Wahrnehmung habe, durch andere hinzukommende vermehrt.”

  5. increment
    The SOED has it.

    B v.t.& i. Increase by an increment or increments. M19.

  6. MMcM,
    Actually, I hadn’t noticed the example under the entry for “program counter”! Thanks for the pointer.
    Now that I’ve seen that the verb “to increment” is listed in the abridged edition of OED, and also used in this example, I’m tempted to conclude that it was an accidental oversight on part of OED authors. But how to explain the fact that almost no other dictionaries list it, at least as far as I’ve noticed? (Also, the Wiktionary entry for “increment” presently says that the verb usage is “[n]ot included in general dictionaries (as of 2009).”)

  7. MMcM:

    What was the earliest you found?

    Some respectable-looking early references returned by Google Books:
    A treatise on the Differential Calculus by William Walton (a Cambridge professor), 1846. Mentions “the differentials of the corresponding incremented quantities.”
    A British Parliament factory inspector report from 1863 contains the phrase “
    before our populations had become so incremented.”
    On the other hand, in one of the reviews featured in this 1870 journal, the reviewer criticizes the author’s nonstandard language by noting that “few have ever before seen the verb ‘incremented’“:
    After around 1870, there are increasingly many references, especially in technical and scientific literature. Certainly, the verb has well over a century of well-established formal usage.

  8. But how to explain the fact that almost no other dictionaries list it
    Maybe because it’s used mostly in technical writing. You can also decrement a counter, but I don’t see “decrement” listed as a verb in the SOED.

  9. I like a couple of the rejected words, but the tone of the Telegraph‘s article is absurdly melodramatic. It’s as though there’s a conspiratorial cabal that controls the legitimacy of words. Ben’s description — ‘Dan Brown lexicography’ — is spot on.

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