How to get a word in the Oxford English Dictionary

Does your website spell checker indicate a miss-spelled word in your copy? Well, the chances are that you’ve either used a US spelling or typed in a term that doesn’t even exist. Although you may scoff at the notion of using a non-existent word, you might be surprised to learn that such an error is rather common and that many people even attempt to get their invented terms in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The English language is constantly evolving, with hundreds of new words and expressions emerging each year. As a result, choosing which ones to include in the Oxford English Dictionary is an ongoing, never-ending process that can also prove rather tricky for spell check website administrators.

To meet such a challenge, the Oxford University Press runs one of the largest language research programmes in the world. It features two important resources: the Oxford English Corpus and the Oxford Reading Program. The Corpus is made up of complete documents which are gathered from the internet, while the reading programme is basically a huge collection of extracts and sentences, sourced from all kinds of materials such as works of fiction, scientific journals and song lyrics. All this is based on the contributions from a network of readers based around the world who are constantly on the alert for new words and meanings.

The above-mentioned programmes are constantly monitored by the dedicated staff at the OED for evidence of a new phrase or term. Once it becomes evident that the word is being used by multiple sources, it becomes a candidate for inclusion. Other factors are also taken into account such as the significance or importance of the word and how likely it is to remain relevant. Terminology and slang can, after all, be rather faddish.

It was the case in centuries gone-by, that dictionaries only featured words that its authors considered useful, even when nobody else used them. Thankfully, times have changed and words now have to be documented in print or via an online source before they can be considered for inclusion.

The timeline for words to be included in the Oxford English Dictionary is now much shorter. There was a time when a period of two to three years of constant usage was required before a new term could be added. However, in today’s information age, the situation is rather different. New words or phrases can reach a much wider audience in shorter space of time.

There are many who send in words they’ve made up in the often vain hope that they’ll be added to one of Oxford’s English dictionaries. Sadly, most of these terms aren’t used by many, if any, other people nor have they been used over a period of time. As a result most are rejected although there are a few instances where invented terms have been included. In such instances, their inclusion has been because they tend to catch on with others, describe something new or because they fill a gap.

For the most up-to-date record of terms and phrases, try the Typosaurus online spell checker.