If language acts as a barometer of society's changing mores and preoccupations, then in the past two years scores of people have developed an interest in gourmet sex (lovemaking that is particularly passionate and enjoyable), the mankini (a man's swimming costume consisting of a narrow V-shaped piece of material extending from the crotch to the shoulders) and Fannie Mae (the informal name for the Federal National Mortgage Association that buys and sells mortgage debt).
Editors at Britain's Collins English Dictionary have added these and 264 other entries to the 30th Anniversary Edition, published Sept. 3. To qualify for inclusion in the esteemed lexicon, a word had to have, over the past two years, six quality citations in Collins' digital corpus, a computerized database that scans 2.5 billion words across a number of print and online resources.
The rise of social-networking sites led to the addition of Twitter (the noun) and twitter (the verb), while the kind of dashed-off writing that appears in posts on that site has given new permanence to words such as hmm, heh, and mwah (the sound of an exaggerated kiss) that were previously considered mere sounds. "Had Twitter and Facebook not become so popular, there's no doubt these terms would not have been included," says Duncan Black, editor of the dictionary. "They're part of the language of microblogging."
He also credits Twitter for the resurgence of terms like heigh-ho and hey-ho exclamations of happiness, disappointment or surprise that had fallen into disuse. Words popular in e-mail shorthand and text-messaging such as OMG (oh my god) and WTF (what the f___) also made the cut.
Beyond digital culture, environmental concerns have helped color the dictionary green. Craggers (members of carbon reduction action groups) now have terms to describe their colleagues in the environmental movement. They probably know more than one ecotarian (a person who only eats food that has been produced in an environmentally friendly manner) and plenty of carborexics (those obsessed with reducing their carbon footprint).
Lastly, the ongoing global financial crisis has moved once highly niche words into the mainstream. People that bandy about complex terms like quantitative easing (increasing the supply of money in order to stimulate economic activity) can now check that they are actually using them correctly. The recession's effect on our behavior has impacted language too. Holidaymakers trying to rein in spending have popularized the term staycation (taking a holiday without going abroad). Glamping (glamorous camping) is less popular at the moment, for obvious reasons.
Expand your vocabulary with these other additions to the dictionary:
Avid fart: a flashy and intrusive visual-effects editing style (in film)
beer o'clock: the time of day when it is acceptable or customary to start drinking alcohol
boomburb: a large suburb experiencing rapid population growth
cage fighting: a form of extreme fighting taking place in an enclosed space
frugalista: a person who tries to stay fashionably dressed on a budget
gak: slang for cocaine
goon bag: the plastic bladder inside a box of (usually cheap) wine
homo economicus: a theoretical human being who rationally calculates the costs and benefits of every action before making a decision, used as the basis for a number of economic theories and models
Ponzimonium: financial turmoil in the wake of uncovering Ponzi schemes
space junk: objects such as artificial satellites and material discarded from space stations that remain in space after use
supernanny: an expert who advises parents on how to deal with badly behaved children
Twitterverse: the social-networking site Twitter and its users