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The Latest Word in Dictionaries

October 14, 1987|DOLORES BARCLAY | Associated Press

NEW YORK — All the dorky glitterati carried their boom boxes to the fern bar where some klutzy break-dancing was exciting a denturist.

At the same time, a grungy hacker ate all the enoki, callaloo and dim sum but said he was only grazing. A nearby anchorperson, who was chatting with a co-parent about edutainment, said it was all very rinky-dink.

It might be the language of the 1980s, but most Americans might still need an interpreter. So Random House has made contemporary conversation slightly easier by updating its dictionary with more than 50,000 new entries and 75,000 new definitions.

All in the Dictionary

Dorky (stupid, inept) is in the dictionary; so are all the other words in the same sentence: glitterati (wealthy or famous people who conspicuously or ostentatiously attend fashionable events); boom box (a large, powerful portable radio); fern bar (a stylish tavern conspicuously decorated with ferns and other greenery); klutzy (clumsy, awkward); denturist (a dental technician in Canada and some states of the United States who is licensed to make and fit artificial dentures).

The new work, "The Random House Dictionary of the English Language: Second Edition--Unabridged," is the first new unabridged dictionary to be published by the company in 21 years.

"If one really dipped around and read through here and there, I would hope we would be a very good mirror of our society," said Stuart Flexner, editor in chief of the dictionary. "Of course, it goes back to the beginnings of the English language. In that whole book, I hope we have the history of the English language."

Flexner and his staff of 30 spent nine years working full-time to revise the 1966 version of "The Random House Dictionary." They started collecting citations as soon as the last work was finished.

"There were 85,000 changes we made in facts, population changes or people who died or who changed positions," he said. "The sciences changed: Some drugs we once thought were safe now aren't; planets we once thought had one moon, now have two. . . . Scientists now spell ameba without the o . A lot of us are now used to old spelling."

Other spelling changes include lasagne, which now appears as lasagna.

Flexner's staff reads widely to gather their words and to see new words being used in their context. About 500 consultants in specialized fields were used, which helped with some of the scientific and technical words.

"We lean over backward to include things because we're the dictionary of record," he said. "Even if it's 'Valley Girl' talk (the upbeat slang expressions of youth who lived in California in the late 1970s and early '80s), 20 years from now someone will come across a clipping utilizing that language and not know the meaning, so we include some 'Valley Girl' expressions."

Like, totally awesome.

The dictionary, published Sept. 14, cost more than $9 million to compile and produce. There are more than 315,000 entries in its 2,478 pages. It sells for $79.95.

Many of the entries are of words that didn't exist 21 years ago. Changes in life styles, culture, science and medicine have generated new languages.

Glutes is in the dictionary, thanks to fitness and sporting enthusiasts, who have also given us triathlete. The entertainment world has produced such expressions as performance art.

A growing interest in ethnic and regional cuisine has made other words more common such as radicchio. There are even food and eating related words and expressions: chocoholic; carbohydrate loading.

In science and medicine, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is listed, as are some of the drugs and viruses associated with it. Other listings include bikini cut.

Flexner expects a desk-size student edition of the dictionary to be out in about five years. In the meantime, he and his staff have started work on the third revision.

"It's a continuing thing," he said. "It's a good thing every 20 years to have your head above water and say, 'We have a new dictionary.' "

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