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How are words invented?

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What does astraphobia (the fear of lightning or thunderstorms) have in common with contactless and livestream? There might be a joke there, and these words are also new entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED is updated four times a year. In March 2021, over 700 new words and phrases were added!

Languages are living, evolving and very complicated structures. Words come into the English language in many different ways. They're named after a person or a place or even a sound. They're borrowed from other languages, or cobbled together from two or more other words. You can add or remove something from an existing word and create a new one. The meaning of a word can also change over time, so new definitions are always being added to the dictionary.

A lexicographer is a writer or compiler of a dictionary. Lexicographers receive thousands of word suggestions every year. Some words are put on a watch list. Those with widespread use are researched in depth. Teams of word detectives review evidence and search for when and how a word was first used. They comb through newspapers and magazines, dig in library archives and online forums, even scour recipe books!

Popular culture and technology are often the sources of new words, or neologisms. Sometimes they're invented by writers who enjoy wordplay. So yes, you can try making up your own slang! But new words have to be used and understood by many people to make it into the dictionary.

What's your birthday word? Discover which word entered the Oxford English Dictionary the year you were born!

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