Defining Times: Evolving Word Usage & Definitions

Dictionaries are constantly being updated to reflect not only how language has historically been used but also dynamic changes that words undergo in everyday use. From novel technology shifting the definitions of existing words (viral, movie, etc.) to the evolving language of identity (revised entries for Black and nonbinary persons) to new slang in pop culture (such as cancel and VSCO girl), the lexicon is ever changing. Updating definitions to reflect these changes in usage is a key aspect of dictionary editors’ jobs. In this session, lexicographer Heather Bonikowski and editor John Kelly will explore how handles that process, from how words are brought up for review to the public’s role in changing definitions, with compelling examples from their recent work.

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Heather Bonikowski

John Kelly

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