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Merriam-Webster Proves Their Irrelevancy – Adds "E-reader" to the Dictionary

The AP is reporting this morning that Merriam-Webster has added the word ereader to their dictionary:

In all, the company picks about 100 additions for the 114-year-old dictionary’s annual update, gathering evidence of usage over several years in everything from media to the labels of beer bottles and boxes of frozen food.

… a sneak peak at the Top 25, rounded out by:

Craft beer, ereader, game changer, a new definition for "gassed" as slang for drained of energy, gastropub, geocaching, shovel-ready (a construction site ready for work) and tipping point.

I’ll admit that I was a little surprised that M-W only added the word this year; I would have thought it was a commonly accepted technical term at least 5 years ago, and possibly as long as 10 years ago. And this isn’t a slang term, either; it’s a commonly used word that refers to a well-established concept.

This story got me wondering when the word ereader was first used. I cannot give you an exact date for when it became a common term, but thanks to Google I can tell you when it started showing up in books.

The graph below was generated by the Google Books Ngram Viewer. As you probably know, Google has digitized hundreds of thousands of books. One of the lesser known (but incredibly useful) aspects of all that dirty filthy piracy is the Ngram Viewer. Google fed all the content from all those books through their servers and counted the number of times each word appears. They then shared that data with graphs like the one below.

As you cam see, ebook reader was first heavily used in 2001, and ereader was used saw it’s first uptick in 2006.

Now, the data only runs until 2008, and I cannot find any use of ereader (with the dash) at all, but I think the graph makes my point quite well.  M-W should have added the word ereader to their dictionary in 2007, not  2012.

And I have a 2011 edition of one of their dictionaries; neither version of the word ereader is in there – neither with nor without the dash. But the word e-book is in the dictionary, with the dash. Kinda makes you wonder what they think you’re reading that ebook on, doesn’t it?

With that in mind, today’s news becomes more about the long delay before M-W added a common word to their dictionary. What we’re seeing here is that M-W is demonstrating their irrelevance. They’re not reacting nearly as fast as the average user, so there’s little reason to buy their dictionary and use it instead of one of the online alternatives.

P.S. If you want to have a chuckle, think about this. M-W makes a dictionary which you can on the Kindle (9 different ones, actually). Those dictionaries won’t have the word ereader defined, even though you’re holding an ereader.  Chew on that.


image by greeblie

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Ilene Frank August 14, 2012 um 3:52 pm

Just thought you’d be interested in this: I checked the Oxford English Dictionary (online version available through my library) and they have this entry on e-book – but no e-reader/ereader:

e-book, n.
View as: Outline |Full entryQuotations: Show all |Hide all
Pronunciation: Brit. /?i?b?k/ , U.S. /?i?b?k/
Forms: 19– E-book, 19– e-book, 19– eBook, 19– ebook.
Etymology: < e- prefix1 + book n.
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A hand-held electronic device on which the text of a book can be read. Also: a book whose text is available in an electronic format for reading on such a device or on a computer screen; (occas.) a book whose text is available only or primarily on the Internet.
In form Ebooks a proprietary name in the United Kingdom.

1988 Amer. Libraries (Nexis) May 390 Things to come… The E-book, a small, hand-held, flat recording device able to replay text as a portable cassette player replays sound.
1992 Atlanta Jrnl. & Constit. 29 Oct. c2 Here's an example that illustrates what ‘e-books’ can do that regular ones can't.
1995 Newsweek 27 Nov. 64/1 Improvements in computer and screen technology will give us a lightweight, universal electronic book, or ‘e-book’, which will approximate today's paper book.
1999 Time 3 May 84/1 When you select a book you want, it's encrypted and beamed to your desktop computer. You can store it there or send it on to your eBook using a simple ‘librarian’ software interface.
2000 Independent 8 June i. 5/3 Stephen King's recent e-book, the 67-page Riding The Bullet, which was sold in downloadable chapters over the internet, sold more than 500,000 copies.

The Commons August 14, 2012 um 5:48 pm

"Kinda makes you wonder what they think you’re reading that ebook on, doesn’t it?"

Ebooks have been around for much, much longer than ereaders.

Nate Hoffelder August 14, 2012 um 6:06 pm

Yes, but ebook readers have been around for over a decade.

DavidW August 15, 2012 um 7:02 am

I think that is a pretty short sided way to look at how dictionaries add words. If a dictionary added a word as soon as it started becoming popular things would be a mess… because many such words and phrases end up being dropped anyway. Let a word stand the test of a few years before being added MAKES SENSE. I know that this is the generation of everything must be now, now, now but that is an obviously flawed philosophy of life.

Nate Hoffelder August 15, 2012 um 5:15 pm

I disagree. Please note that I’m not saying that new words should be added willy-nilly, just that it shouldn’t take 6 years. The main issue, as I see it, is that M-W limits the number of people who can contribute to the process. This leaves them permanently a step behind true usage.

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