Saturday, September 15, 2007

weekly writing coach: the unspoken

When your editor rejects a word choice as slang, or you can't find a commonly used word when you look it up, keep in mind that dictionaries avoid words frequently spoken, but rarely used in print. This Associated Press article uses two recent examples: "snitty," which describes "disagreeably agitated," in use since 1989 but with a hiatus in print use until 2005; and "regift," the popular term for passing along a gift received but not wanted. Here's what happened in the latter case, according to an editor from Merriam-Webster:
"We're not trying to pick up on a word that just became popular and everyone starts speaking it," said Joanne Despres, a senior editor. Once regift started gaining momentum in publications after 2001, Despres did some more checking and found that "regift" started appearing in newspapers almost immediately after it debuted on "Seinfeld."
It's worth discussing whether your workplace style guide should include--or avoid--words that don't meet this rule, especially when you're targeting youth audiences. Do take the time to gauge whether the newfangled term has meaning to your audience, and realize that a stickler of an editor may well reject it when she reaches for her dictionary and finds it hasn't yet made the cut.

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