The speed at which the English language adapts and adds new words is what makes it so great, but also what makes it so annoying, mainly due to the fact that it’s difficult to keep up with how quickly everything changes. The rise of the Internet has only served to make things worse thanks to hashtags, memes, and all that jazz adding new words at an even quicker pace than before, but the Internet also brings us new ways to keep up with these changes. Erin McKean, a former editor for the New Oxford American Dictionary, wants to utilize data analytics to scan the Internet for new words and compile them all onto a new online dictionary that she created, Wordnik.com.
A couple of weeks ago, two of my New York Times colleagues chronicled digital culture trends that are so newish and niche-y that conventional English dictionaries don’t yet include words for either of them. In an article on Sept. 20, Stephanie Rosenbloom, a travel columnist, reviewed flight apps that try to perfect “farecasting” — that is, she explained, the art of “predicting the best date to buy a ticket” to obtain the lowest fares. That same day Jenna Wortham, a columnist for The Times Magazine, described a phenomenon she called “technomysticism,” in which Internet users embrace medieval beliefs, spells and charms. These word coinages may be too fresh — and too little used for now — to be of immediate interest to major English dictionaries. But Erin McKean, a lexicographer with an egalitarian approach to language, thinks “madeupical” words such as these deserve to be documented. Ms. McKean started a campaign last month on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site, to unearth one million “missing” English words — words that are not currently found in traditional dictionaries. To locate the underdocumented expressions, she has engaged a pair of data scientists to scrape and analyze language used in online publications. Ms. McKean said she planned to incorporate the found words in Wordnik.com, an online dictionary of which she is a co-founder.