Dictionairworthy (adjective. 1. Fit to be new word)
By Kevin Pang
Tribune staff reporter
Published June 19, 2007
The Dictionary Society of North America was in town last week for its biennial conference celebrating language, words, dictionaries and lexicography (or any combination of these, as the 500-member international organization puts it.)
One high point: the New Word Open Mic, an "American Idol"-style event during which contestants offer words they think might reach dictionary status someday.
Yes, there was a panel of judges. No, dictionary editors and neologism experts are not as brutal as Simon Cowell when it comes to assessing a word's chances at fame. Still, by all accounts, this competition was thrillinguistically (adverb. 1. Geeked out by language) successful, with some 40 dictionary die-hards in attendance ready to stamp their feet and cheer raw lexicographical talent.
One by one, contestants walked to the front of the room and read aloud a word, its spelling, its definition.
There were original creations -- Gary Courington offered invertibrats (noun. 1. Those who engage in spineless behavior).
There were words that have appeared elsewhere but made an indelible impression -- Amy Reynaldo, a local freelance writer, offered the word hangry (adjective. 1. When hunger morphs into anger), a term she saw in a New York Times article several years ago. "Instantly, [I thought] this is the word for what I feel when I haven't had what I need to eat," she said persuasively.
The crowd's reaction? Polite applause. From a middle row in the auditorium: "Nice."
But there's a difference between words headed for stardom, that is, dictionary recognition, and merely clever terms. Drunch (noun. 1. A brunch in which lots of alcohol is served) and graybicle (noun. 1. A cubicle with no view. Alternate British spelling, greybicle) wouldn't stand a chance, because, observed judge Grant Barrett (author of "The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English") for new words to be considered in a dictionary, "there must be utility above all."
Then came the showstopping moment when David Epstein of Chicago stepped up to the microphone and intoned, newsrotica (noun. 1. an obsession with salacious news stories).
Useful. Clever. But original? Barrett ran an online search from his laptop. Zero hits on Google. Zero hits on Usenet groups. Zero hits on Amazon.com's full text search. Newsrotica was a brand new coinage! The audience cheered!
Epstein, who manages an online database for accountants and auditors, was noticeably pleased. The audience voted newsrotica the afternoon's best new coinage, and for that, he won a T-shirt. (Reynaldo's suggestion of hangry was voted best overall new word, for which she won The New Oxford American Dictionary -- all 8.1 pounds and 2,096 pages).
Said Epstein afterward, "I look for the day when a media consultant will be saying: 'If you want to boost your ratings, newsrotify the news.' "