10 Years And 10,000 New Words Later, American Heritage Revises Dictionary24:30

This article is more than 9 years old.
(Courtesy: greeblie/Flickr)
(Courtesy: greeblie/Flickr)

Backronym. Fracking. Ulu. Wifty. Those are just some of the 10,000 new words included in the new, fifth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary.

Most of us accept the idea of correct usage when it comes to the English language. And we regard a dictionary as a source of fact about our language, about what words mean, how to pronounce them and how to use them.

But when it comes to lexicography, it's not so black and white. And as Stephen Pinker puts it: "That is the dirty little secret of lexicography. There's no one in charge. The lunatics are running the asylum."

In the case of the latest edition of the American Heritage Dictionary, those "lunatics" are some smart folk. Among the "usage" panel are literary luminaries like Roger Angell, Margaret Atwood, Joan Didion and Henry Louis Gates.


  • Steven Kleinedler, executive editor, American Heritage Dictionary
  • Stephen Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard University and chairman of the usage panel of the new American Heritage Dictionary


This program aired on December 8, 2011.