When a routine prescription seemed slow getting filled recently, I called the pharmacy to see if a problem was at hand.
Said the pharmacist: “It’s a supply chain issue.”
His response put him in the avant-garde of today’s culture, because the dreaded “supply chain” invocation is now an official entry in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
The term is among 370 new ones added in 2022, during this age when the coinage of words and phrases moves appreciably faster than the transport of goods.
Even the weather forecast is getting a makeover. Meteorologists used to tell us rain was on the way. Suddenly, though, forecasts seem passè without at least one reference to an “atmospheric river” bearing down.
With lightning speed, the term has coursed its way into the dictionary, which defines it less fearsomely as “a concentrated band of water vapor that flows through the atmosphere and is…an important source of regional precipitation.”
Noah Webster himself might be surprised at how fluid the language has become since he created his famous An American Dictionary of the English Language, the iconic work he published 195 years ago on April 14,1828.
Webster’s rationale for the work, even in a slower time, reflected his understanding that language is never static: “Every man of common reading knows that a living language must necessarily suffer gradual changes in its current words…,” he wrote.
But he’d obviously be stumped by some of the newest entries, which include “metaverse,” the digital creation of an alternate reality. The contemporary Webster’s defines it (sort of) for us dinosaurs as “a persistent virtual environment that allows access to interoperability of multiple individual realties.”
Likewise, since Mr. Webster would be unable to envision a “smartphone,” he’d surely wonder about the new entry of “dumbphone,” defined as a device that can’t do what a smartphone can.
He might also wonder about the newly accepted “greenwash,” a takeoff on “whitewash” that the dictionary says is something touted to appear more environmentally friendly than it actually is.
Reflecting the insecurities of our own era, “view doorbell” is now officially part of the lexicon,
As for other anxieties, “adorkable” is now a real word that means “socially awkward or quirky in a way that is endearing.”
A word we’re hearing more often, “shrinkflation,” now wears the Webster’s badge of authenticity. It’s the practice of “reducing a product’s amount or volume per unit while continuing to offer it at the same price.”
Since we live in a time where sensitivity is valued, one might seek to avoid a disparaging word like “poor.” Now one can, by trotting out the now-official and less demeaning “unbanked.”
If you’re looking among the new entries for that current darling of the political right, “woke” as an adjective of derision, you’re far too late. The dictionary put that in back in 2017.
In listing its new entries, Merriam-Webster explains, as did Mr. Webster himself, that “The dictionary chronicles how the language grows and changes, which means new words and definitions must continually be added.”
The dictionary folks say it’s we the people who make that happen, by how often we use newly-minted unofficial words.
So now you have an updated list of official ones, including “laggy,” “magnet fishing,” “terraform,” “yeet” “sus,” “lewk,” and “janky.”
What do they mean? Hey, don’t make me do all the work. If you’re curious, I refer you to advice from the “ol’ perfesser” of the New York Yankees, loquacious Casey Stengel, who famously asserted – and it’s true now for these new words – “You could look it up.”
Gerry Goldstein (firstname.lastname@example.org), a frequent contributor, is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist.