PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Thursday, December 6, 2012

Words We ‘Literally’ Want Out Of The Dictionary

“Literally” must be somewhere in this pile of refrigerator magnet words. (Calamity Meg/Flickr)

Recently we asked listeners what words they were tired of and wanted removed from the dictionary.

The use of “literally” in phrases such as “I literally laughed my head off!” got a number of votes. One of our listeners hated the use of the word “impact” as a verb, as in “the debate impacted the vote.”

We asked Steve Kleinedler, executive editor of the American Heritage Dictionary for his thoughts.

He told Here & Now’s Robin Young that the dictionary often addresses those complaints in their usage notes, but in the case of  the word impact, “it has a longstanding, decades, decades long use as a verb… Language changes over time, and this is one where the ship has sailed.”

There’s a reason dictionaries can be reluctant to remove words, once they’re on the books, Steve said. Back in the late ’90s, he suggested the American Heritage Dictionary remove what appeared to be an obsolete word relating to punch card technology: chad.

“After some discussion, the editors realized it’s still used in certain jurisdictions – in voting booths, for example – and based on that, we thought, ‘Okay, we’ll keep it in,'” Steve said. “And then a year later, of course, in 2000, the word chad rose to the top of everyone’s consciousness in a very large way. So it’s an example of, while even if we think something might be on its way out, you really want to take caution before you start deleting things willy nilly.”

The catchphrases that people are tired of, such as “YOLO,” standing for “you only live once,” tend not to make it into the dictionary in the first place, Steve said, since editors feel that they are ephemeral and might die out.

Steve also told us about the words the American Heritage Dictionary added this year. Several came from the food world, including the condiment “Sriracha.”

Guest:

  • Steve Kleinedler, executive editor of the American Heritage Dictionary.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

April 29 17 Comments

What’s A Delegate? And Why Do We Even Have Them In The First Place?

Here & Now's Robin Young speaks with Richard Pacelle, professor of political science at the University of Tennessee, to find some answers.

April 29 3 Comments

Bison Set To Become America’s First National Mammal

A bipartisan effort to name the bison the first national mammal of the U.S. has passed in Congress.

April 28 30 Comments

Men Read Mean Tweets At Women And The Video Goes Viral

Two Chicago-area sports journalists gathered the tweets directed at them and asked men to read them to their faces. The result went viral.

April 28 7 Comments

HBO's CEO On Virtual Reality And ‘Sesame Street’

In the second part of our interview with Richard Plepler, he discusses why the premium cable network picked up "Sesame Street."