Perhaps you saw the outrageous headline from The Daily Telegraph last week: "Secret vault of words rejected by the Oxford English Dictionary uncovered"! Michael Quinion called it "quite the daftest dictionary-related story I've ever read," and I tend to agree. In my latest Word Routes column on the Visual Thesaurus, I take a look at just how daft the story is, with its suggestion of a Dan Brown-style Dictionary Cabal locking up failed words. (Actually, Dan Brown could probably write a better story — that's how laughable it is.)
I was immediately suspicious of the "non-words" listed in the Telegraph article when I saw the first one: "Accordionated – being able to drive and refold a road map at the same time." Talk about a golden oldie. That dates back to the 1980s, from Rich Hall's popular Sniglets book series. (A sniglet is "any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary but probably should.") It has circulated in online sniglet collections ever since.
Looking deeper into the list, I felt a creeping sense of déjà vu. It turns out that a healthy majority of the entries come from a single source. In 2005, Merriam-Webster asked users of its online dictionary, "What's your favorite word that's not in the dictionary?" It compiled a top ten list (and later, with much fanfare, announced that the top vote-getter, ginormous, would enter the next edition of the Collegiate Dictionary). Beyond the top ten, Merriam-Webster provided a list of "Previous Favorite Words (Not in the Dictionary)." Of the 39 words listed by the Telegraph, a whopping 27 of them — from asphinxiation ("being sick to death of unanswerable puzzles or riddles") to wurfing ("the act of surfing the Internet while at work") — come from Merriam-Webster's 2005 selection of "previous favorite words."
You can read the whole thing here.