The World Wide Web makes Tom Pitoniak’s job harder. As an associate editor at Merriam-Webster, publisher of dictionaries and other reference books, Pitoniak must distinguish between words that legitimately should be in the dictionary and all that other matter sloshing around the English language: slang, industry jargon, onomatopoeic fillers, brand names, buzzwords, abbreviations, and the like. The new Webâ€”flooded as it is with blogs, message boards, and Web pages containing the computer literati’s conversationsâ€”is awash with such words. “It’s kind of dizzying,” says Pitoniak.
Telling the difference between a true word and a nonword was once as easy as reading. Time was, a cluster of sequential letters constituted a word if it appeared in printed sources a few hundred times or so over a few years and had an accepted meaning. Not anymore.