The Vocabulary Explosion





If English is your language of choice, you generally use about one percent of the words available in the English vocabulary. That's seems like a small amount, but there are more than 1,022,000 English words. 


Those of us with more than a few miles on our odometers can remember the days when the vocabulary lists we studied in grade school were the same ones all our siblings who followed us also studied. Those “spelling books” didn't change for decades. 


It's not so simple anymore. According to the Global Language Monitor, a new word is created every 98 minutes. Each year, an estimated 800 to 1,000 new words are added to English language dictionaries. The second (current) edition of the Oxford English Dictionary contains 171,476 words. The third edition will be completed in 2037 and they figure expect to add another 8,000 words. Either way, paper dictionaries have no chance to keep up with the pace and number of additions. 


Now, it's true that about one third of English words are technical terms. Consider this, however. The World Economic Forum tells us this: “In many industries the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist ten or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate. Sixty-five percent of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.” It's safe to assume that new vocabulary will proliferate in conjunction with those new jobs. 


Time marches on, as they say, so every decade has given us new words. The 1940’s debuted cheeseburger and flying saucer. In the 1950’s we gained aerospace, digitize, and meter maid. The 1960’s gave us area code, disco, and microwave. During the 1970’s, biofeedback, diskette, and electronic mail came into being. It was not until the 1980's that we could channel surf with our trophy wife. The 1990's World Wide Web then led to the 2000's when we installed wi-fi for our blogs. 


So, you might ask, what new words have recently been added? Well, this month the Oxford English Dictionary announced the addition of 300 new words. Not to be outdone, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary added 1,000 new words. I perused the lists and some of the newbies caught my attention. 


With spring just around the corner, many of us will be exercising outdoors. If you need motivation, perhaps you need a “fitspiration.” That's  a person or thing that serves as motivation for someone to sustain or improve health and fitness.


During the warm weather you may go on vacation. If so, you need to have a working knowledge of “whinese,” the language spoken by children on long road trips. If the kidlings get on your nerves, try not to get “flusterpated,” a feeling of intense frustration while being flustered.


Given the last few months, politics may be on your mind. After all, it has been a rather “craptacular” (remarkably poor or disappointing) stretch of time during which much “haterade” (excessive negativity) has been rampant in the land. This is probably because of political “gatsenoms” (individuals who appear ridiculous, foolish, and stupid, and are clearly unaware of the fact) who “skeeve” us (cause us to experience a feeling of disgust or intense dislike). 


It gets even worse when we are subjected to “apathignorant” (apathetically ignorant). Often, you can stop them in their tracks with a “side–eye” (a sidelong glance or gaze expressing scorn, suspicion, or disapproval). But sometimes the only thing you can do is give yourself a “face–palm” (to cover one's face with the hand as an expression of embarrassment, dismay, or exasperation). You can save yourself a lot of consternation by invoking the “prumngle” theory (a problem that is not one's own responsibility to resolve). 


All these words aside, sometimes words appear that are just fun to use. One of my new favorites is “whobody.” You use this when calling people to the dinner table, as in: “Whobody wants to eat?” 


Another one is “pugly” (ugly in a cute way). It reminds me of a line that always makes me laugh by Rodney Dangerfield in the movie “Caddy Shack.” Observing a hat choice by another golfer he said: “Oh, this is the worst-looking hat I ever saw. It looks good on you though.”


The whole point of this is that the expansion of our vocabulary is happening whether we like it or not. It's easy to get “conbafflated” (confused, baffled, and frustrated at the same time). The trick is to stay calm and have fun with what you learn each and every day. 


Check it out:

-World Economic Forum:

-Global Language Monitor:

-New words through decades:

-Merriam-Webster Dictionary's new words:

-Oxford English Dictionary's new words: and 


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at and