dictionaryThe 2011 edition of the top-selling dictionary in the United States, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, adds 150 new words, including several popular social media terms.

Merriam-Webster doesn’t just add words to its dictionary haphazardly. Instead, words are tracked for years until the editors, “feel their meanings have stabilized enough to include them in the dictionary.”

Technology-related words that made it into the new version of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary include:

  • tweet
  • social media
  • crowdsourcing
  • m-commerce

It has been a couple of years since Merriam-Webster added new words to its dictionary with Twitter making it in for the 2009 edition. Other dictionaries have added similar technology and social-media related words in recent years as well, but there is definitely a significant lag between the time that words become part of our common vernacular and when they make it to the pages of a popular dictionary.

Here’s another interesting thought. Social media and tweet have decent definition entries in UrbanDictionary.com dated 2008. Social media was first added as its own entry on Wikipedia.org in 2006. And of course, a quick Google search will provide a huge variety of sources for finding definitions for social media terms like these as well as the ones that aren’t in popular dictionaries yet.

For online content publishers and consumers, language is continually evolving. I’m not suggesting that annual editions of printed dictionaries will become obsolete or that people will consistently turn to sites like Wikipedia or UrbanDictionary to get reliable definitions of words. However, there does appear to be a significant gap between language evolution and reference materials keeping up with that evolution. Just as newspapers and magazines are struggling for relevancy, printed dictionaries (and their online counterparts that offer the same content – often with a pricetag) are being replaced with more current and free resources.

For example, if you look at the definition of social media from Merriam-Webster’s free online dictionary, it references the “first known use of social media” as 2004. Seven years later a term that has become fairly ubiquitous is just being added to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary.

This opens up an interesting question. Do online publishers and the online audience still use printed dictionaries and reference materials when the same information (or more current information) is available with a handful of keystrokes online — where those people already spending time? Leave a comment and share your thoughts. Do you still use a printed dictionary?

I confess that I do not use a printed dictionary anymore. I know I have one that I used to keep on my desk at all times. I have no idea where it is at this moment, and I have no plans to try to find it.

Image: wowacom