Word processing

July 11, 2006

The Inuit have no shortage of words to describe snow and ice and whether the stuff is falling, floating or just lying around. Living near the Arctic Circle is bound to do that to a culture. But what about a people trapped in an equally hostile (if somewhat warmer) environment of personal computers, cell phones, big-box stores, avian flu, pop psychology and mass media? The effects on their vocabulary are bound to be revealing.

That brings us to the nearly 100 words the folks at Merriam-Webster have decided to add for this year's update of the company's widely circulated Collegiate Dictionary. Based on the 20 they've revealed so far, things don't look good for life in 21st-century America. Here's a hint: There are no new words to describe knowledge or enlightenment, but unibrow - eyebrows that appear to grow together - made the, er, cut.

As a public service, we provide below a sampling of the new entries. The definitions are ours. Like Samuel Johnson, we couldn't help but insert a bit of opinion on each - lexicography being the last refuge of editorial-writing scoundrels and all that.

Spyware. Malicious software that can prove costly to your personal computer - as opposed to anti-spyware computer software that is costly.

Soul patch. Small beard beneath the lower lip. Not to be confused with Seoul patch, the unlikely prospects for a rapprochement between North and South Korea.

Supersize. Enlarging one's fast-food order. For example, class-action lawyers would like to supersize court judgments on behalf of obese people.

Gastric bypass. Surgical favorite of plaintiffs with extra money thanks to fast-food class-action lawsuits.

Sandwich generation. Generation that can't afford a bologna sandwich because of costly child care and nursing homes.

Ringtone. Brief ditties downloaded into cell phones in an apparent effort to maximize the annoyance of an incoming call.

Mouse potato. Probably an unambitious person who spends too many hours in front of a computer screen. Someone should Google (another new word) it and let us know.

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