So the other night I thought I heard [a friend] say “She was druncating all over the place.” I heard wrong. But I want to register “druncate” as a new word please. Can you take care of this, [Language Nerd]?
Follow-up example after request for clarification:
“We had to drag Stella out of the club last night—she had too many Jello shots and she was druncating like crazy. She kept trying to sit on this guy’s lap and his wife was right there. And on the way home she wanted to stop by the pound and adopt all the dogs. Thank God they were closed.”
Depends on what you mean by “register.” I reckon you want one or both of the following:
1. Approval by an authority, and
2. Widespread usage.
I don’t want to string you along: I have no special ability in this regard. Registering words by fiat is unfortunately not within my power. But I’ll tell you what I know.
The authority you need here is gonna be a dictionary, and before we talk about how to get into one, we need to deconstruct the idea of what a dictionary is. Which may seem a little dumb, but I promise you, most lexicographers (dictionary-writers) have exactly the opposite view on language than people think they do.
Dictionaries are mostly used by prescriptivists, that is, people looking for the One True Spelling (or Meaning) of a particular word. The dictionary is correct and flawless and complete, and deviations from it are by definition (heh) wrong. Hence the idea that any word not in the dictionary is not a “real” word.
But dictonaries are mostly made by descriptivists. Rather than prescribing correct usages and spellings, lexicographers are describing the language as they find it. They take in thousands of examples of words in use, whether from well-established academic texts or from awesome pop song mashups, and try to write a definition that covers those usages. And since people are constantly using language in new ways, the dictionary is never complete and never totally correct. Lexicographers are constantly seeking verifications of new words, senses of words, and spellings to add in, and finding proof of something new can be quite a coup.* This gap between the ideas of dictionary users and makers is what leads to hilarious uproar at things like “figuratively” being added as a definition of “literally” in several dictionaries – to the prescriptivists, that can’t possibly be right, because it wasn’t in the books before, but to the descriptivists it’s obviously accurate, because that’s how people are using it now.
So as you may have noted, my “one-two” plan up there is a little backwards. Getting a word into a dictionary does not then lead to fame and fortune; rather, your little word needs to get famous all on its own before lexicographers will start tracking it. But so far I’ve been saying “the dictionary” like there’s just one, or like all dictionaries are the same. They’re absolutely not, and just how famous your word needs to be will depend on the dictionary you want it in.
At one end of the cite-your-sources spectrum, you have slang dictionaries, which tend towards inclusion. Their biggest concern is remaining up-to-date, and for that they have to be ready to take in new words as soon as they see them. This can lead to problems – entries can be confusing or inaccurate because they’re based on too little (or heavily biased) data – but do not underestimate their usefulness. The powerhouse on this side is of course Urban Dictionary, which requires proof of exactly one source before accepting a word – that source being you, submitting it. If this is where you want “druncating,” then hey, done.
But let’s say that’s not what you want. Let’s say you want your word in a dictionary that’s considered srs bznss. In fact, let’s aim high: we’ll get “druncating” into the Oxford English Dictionary. They’re quite the opposite of UD, in that they don’t want to include “ephemeral” words – words that no one is going to be using two weeks from now, also known as UD’s stock and trade. In fact, since they have a historical bent, OED lexicographers prefer their words to have evidence of use in print for at least ten years and from many different writers. They’ll take less, though. Fewer years are acceptable if there are enough widely-dispersed users, and vice versa. The word also needs to grow naturally into the language, and be used “unselfconsciously,” not with an explanation of its meaning after, nor with a little wink-wink-look-at-me cuteness. It has to be used without anyone thinking about it.
As we’ve talked about before, it’s difficult for an invented word to make the leap to “normal language” status, but it’s not impossible. The most important point is that the word must fill a gap in the existing language, and “druncating” clearly does that. So use it – use it in speech, get your friends to use it, spread it as far as you can. I said that the OED needs print sources, but usually words get their start in speech, so go with that. It’s a long journey, but it could make its way into facebook statuses, tweets, and eventually blog posts decrying the hedon-induced collapse of English and/or society as we know it.
The OED is the far end of the spectrum, so long before you make it there you’ll be in those dictionaries that make up the wide middle ground, like the Oxford Dictionaries Online (same group, but their current usage dictionary, which only needs two or three years of use for a word to be tossed in). The nice thing about the OED, though, is that once a word goes in, it never comes out. And you’ve got the earliest citation, so you’re sure to be quoted – if you can make it there, you’ll be enshrined forever. I wish you all the best.
Now if you’ll excuse me, next week is Spring Break, and I need to go prepare for some druncating.
The Language Nerd
*Though the real coup, for lexicographers at places like the OED, is antedating a word. That’s finding an earlier source for a word than the earliest source they currently have listed, and… well, it’s kind of a big deal, is all.
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Time to cite my own sources, hmm?
Some dictionaries: Urban Dict, the OED, and the ODO. The Oxford folks also have several nice FAQs and blog posts about how they select words and gain evidence for them. Other dictionaries spell out their own requirements more-or-less clearly at their sites. Vaguely related is this excellent article by OED editor and general awesome fellow Jesse Sheidlower on why we need to spell out swears in the news.
Special mention to the awesome lexicography course at Universität Trier, and to all the lexicographers I’ve been lucky enough to party with. I owe you a beer, guys.