Each year, the Merriam-Webster International Dictionary research teams carefully review new words that have been introduced to the American language in the previous year for the next edition of their highly regarded reference text, as well as following shifting meanings in old words. This year, several cultural shifts have caused some surprises.
“It is highly unusual for us to remove a word from future editions, but we are doing so for the 2015 edition,” said Merriam-Webster spokesperson Constance Reader. “To be sure, there are obsolete words that have remained, for instance widdershins, meaning to turn counter-clockwise, that lost its purpose centuries ago when reliable timepieces were invented. Another word that has gone out of use is cockalorum, meaning a little man with a high opinion of himself. And of course, there is the schoolboy jape, ‘Ain’t ain’t in the dictionary’, but of course it is in most modern dictionaries of the English and American language.”
“For an obsolete word to be expunged entirely, there must be sufficient reason,” she continued, “and in the case of one word in particular there is more than ample evidence of its impractical nature and,” she said, lowering her voice, “even evidence of the danger of the use of this word. Therefore, Merriam-Webster International will remove the word gullible from all future editions of our dictionary beginning with the 2015 printing.”
Reader explained that it was the consensus of the 2015 Edition Committee members that gullible be dropped to avoid any further misuses of the word such as those reported to the committee.
“Gullible’” Reader explained, “has a troubled history as an adjective due to the radical shifts of meaning of both the root word and its synonyms. The definitions of synonyms such as credulous, naive, overtrusting, overtrustful, easily deceived, easily taken in, exploitable, dupable, impressionable, unsuspecting, unsuspicious, unwary, ingenuous, innocent, inexperienced, unworldly, green, have all shifted in the past several years. In fact, there is an unconfirmed report of one new meaning for gullible is ‘capable of being gulled, as in the sentence ‘This beach is devoid of all wild fowl making it quite gullible.'”
“All of this has made the meaning of gullible completely unclear, rendering it unsuitable for personal, business and diplomatic communications. In today’s highly volatile world, you can imagine what may occur if gullible were to be used as a synonym of innocent, but was mistaken to mean capable of being gulled.”
Reader went on to say that a brand new word has been coined for 2015 by the committee in response to a the need for a word that would mean ‘appropriation or theft for publication of another person’s work’. The brand new word for 2015 is ‘plagiarism’.
“We believe that ‘plagiarism’ will quickly be adopted by English speakers in much the same way that Dublin theatre owner Richard Daly’s word ‘quiz’ was readily accepted by the public in 1791.”