Crowdsourcing: The Word is Out

After 150 years, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary is still one of the leading authorities on the English language. And it turns out that one word has officially achieved permanence in our language: crowdsourcing. Everyone’s abuzz over how MW officially added “crowdsourcing,” “tweet,” “social media,” and “bromance” (among many other words) to the latest version of the dictionary.

So, despite the fact that my word processor still angrily underlines crowdsourcing each time I type It, the times are changing. Future generations of Word will respect and recognize crowdsourcing as:

“the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers”

This made me curious about how words are added to the dictionary. With Merriam-Webster’s first known use of “crowdsourcing” back in 2006 – that’s a five year journey to the esteemed dictionary pages. Merriam Webster includes an outline of this process on their site.

Essentially, every day, MW editors devote 1-2 hours reading a variety of materials: printed and online and scouring them for new words and new uses for existing words. Those materials are marked and entered into a citation database that tracks the following information: the word, a contextual example of that word at work, and the source of that occurrence. Those files have been kept since the 1880s and number more than 15.7 examples of various words. After a word has been cited it waits to achieve a unified definition and enough usage to merit a dictionary entry. For crowdsourcing, that was the five year journey.

While reading about the process, I thought – dictionary citation would be an excellent service to crowdsource.

Here are a few more factoids about the evolution of the English language:

  • The last time new words were added to MW (back in 2009), some of the list highlights included: “staycation,” “flash mob,” “webisode,” and “vlog.”
  • People estimate that more than 90,000 new words were added to English over the course of the twentieth century (a 25% increase to the total vocabulary of the language)
  • Approximately 800 neologisms are added to the English language each year.

Does this lend new legitimacy to crowdsourcing or is the word’s addition to the language long-overdue? What other words can we expect to see added to our dictionaries in the coming years? How many words do you know?

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