The first American dictionary of the 1990s was published Friday with a host of new entries including read my lips, politically correct, biochip, wannabe, date rape, Norplant, command economy, global warming, voice mail, wilding, gender bender, Prozac, program trading and womyn.
If some of these words are NIMBY (not in my back yard), it's probably because you aren't in big business or computer technology, two of the areas that have become the richest sources of new words and phrases. The other top source is black culture.The 1,600-page Random House Webster's College Dictionary is totally new and not just revised, its editors stress, the first dictionary ever drawn from a computerized dictionary database. There hasn't been a new dictionary since Prentice Hall brought out Webster's New World Dictionary Third College Edition three years ago.
This is Random House's first college dictionary to use the name Webster in its title. "Webster's" is in the public domain and is used by a number of publishers, including Merriam-Webster, whose most recent dictionary is 9 years old. Noah Webster, a Connecticut teacher-lawyer, published his first dictionary in 1806.
The Random House Webster's has 180,000 entries, more than any other college dictionary and quite enough for English-speaking Americans who recognize only 20,000 words on the average and use only 12,000 of them in conversation.
In fact, according to Random House spokesman John L. Hornor III, 100 common words constitute 75 percent of all conversations with "it," "to," and "the" most frequently used.
"English is a living language and changes daily," Hornor said. "Just look at how many words and phrases have come into use in the past few years - virtual reality, wiggle room and narcoterrorism, to name a few.
"Then there are the familiar words that have added new meanings or are used in new idioms such as `virus,' as in computers, and `portable,' as in employee benefits. It's how up-to-date the entries are, how well they are defined, and how their usage and etymology are explained that makes dictionaries different."
Words were being added to the dictionary as late as mid-February, Hornor said. One of the last changes was a new meaning for an old word "patriot" as the result of the use of the Army anti-aircraft missile in the gulf war. There also are references to Eduard Shevardnadze's resignation as Soviet foreign minister in late January and the naming of John Major as the new British prime minister.
Other new entries reflecting current events are glasnost, peres-troika, nomenklatura, Soweto, Tiananmen Square and Shining Path. Many words are getting a new spin, including "spin" in the sense of endowing something with a particular viewpoint or bias, especially in the media.
For accuracy and clarity of definition and validity of pronunciation, Random House editors drew on the expertise of 400 consultants around the world, Hornor said. For example, a noted Semitic scholar was consulted to determine the source of "intifada," the Palestinian revolt, a word of Arab derivation which literally means "shaking off."
And so, from "A" (first letter of the alphabet) to "zzz" (the sound of a person snoring), Random House Webster's offers fascinating reading for anyone interested in his native tongue, the world's richest.
Except that anyone is no longer he, because the new Webster's - in an effort to eliminate sexist language - never uses he or she if gender is unknown.
That's where "womyn" comes in, in case you were wondering. The dictionary offers this word as "an alternative spelling to `women' to avoid the suggestion of sexism perceived in the sequence m-e-n."