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Dictionary's new words: F-bomb, sexting, life coach

The entry

The entry "f-bomb" is one of the 15 new additions in the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. (Aug. 10, 2012) Credit: AP

It's about freakin' time.

The term "F-bomb" surfaced in Newsday more than 20 years ago, but it will land Tuesday for the first time in the mainstream Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, along with sexting, flexitarian, obesogenic, energy drink and life coach.

In all, the company picks about 100 additions for the 114-year-old dictionary's annual update, gathering evidence of usage over several years in everything from media to the labels of beer bottles and boxes of frozen food.

So who's responsible for lobbing F-bomb far and wide? Kory Stamper, an associate editor for Merriam-Webster, said she and her fellow word spies at the Massachusetts company traced it back to 1988, in a Newsday story by Steve Marcus that had Mets catcher Gary Carter talking about how he had given them up, along with other profanities.

Marcus said the usage was common even then. "It became part of the baseball jargon," Marcus said. "It was something in baseball that people were using at that time. It was similar to the way that 'saves' snuck in and became accepted. It was convenient. You didn't have to use profanity, but still got your point across."

But published use of the word didn't really take off until the late '90s, after Bobby Knight went heavy on the F-bombs during a locker room tirade.

"We saw another huge spike after Dick Cheney dropped an F-bomb in the Senate in 2004," and again in 2010 when Vice President Joe Biden did the same thing in the same place, Stamper said.

"It's a word that is very visually evocative. It's not just the F-word. It's F-bomb. You know that it's going to cause a lot of consternation and possible damage," she said.

Many online dictionary and reference sites already list F-bomb and other entries that Merriam-Webster is only now putting into print. A competitor, Oxford University Press, has F-bomb under consideration for a future update of its New Oxford American Dictionary, but beat Merriam-Webster to print on a couple of other newcomers: mash-up, added to the Oxford book in 2005, and cloud computing, included in 2010.

No worries, Stamper said. The dictionary biz isn't a race.

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate gets a cover-to-cover overhaul every decade or so in addition to yearly upgrades. The Springfield, Mass.-based company also picks a defining word of each year around Thanksgiving. Among the company's other additions this year, including online at, and various apps: the Oprah-inspired "aha moment," the Stephen King-popularized earworm, as in that truly torturous tune you can't get out of your head, and man cave, brain cramp and bucket list.

The first reference found by Merriam-Webster for "aha moment" dates to 1939 in a book of psychology. Its use was sporadic until the 1990s, when Oprah Winfrey began using it on her no-longer-on-the-air TV show.

"In fact, aha moment is so closely associated with Oprah that in 2009, she and Mutual of Omaha got involved in a legal imbroglio over Mutual of Omaha's use of the phrase, with Oprah claiming that aha moment was her catchphrase and she had the rights to it," Stamper said.

The case was settled out of court in 2009.

The word "tweet" led last year's new-word highlights from Merriam-Webster. This year's additions are more eclectic, Stamper said.

There are a few of those this time around: copernicium among them.

It's a short-lived, artificially produced radioactive element that has 112 protons and is the most recent addition to the Periodic Table of Elements. It was first created in a German lab in 1996 and named for the astronomer Copernicus.

The recession blues are represented, too.

Merriam-Webster added "systemic risk" and a new definition for "underwater," to describe the heartbreaking realization that you owe more on your mortgage than your property is worth. Among other new economic terms is an extra definition for "toxic," as it relates to an "asset that has lost so much value that it cannot be sold on the market."

Merriam-Webster leads the dictionary market, said John Morse, president of the privately held company who wouldn't release sales figures. He also wouldn't release a full list of new entries, in part to put off competitors.

"Let them find their own new words," he joked. "It's not a cutthroat business, but we like to say it's a bare knuckles business." Morse did acknowledge: "It's harder for some paper dictionaries to stay in business in the era of online dictionaries." And he allowed for a sneak peak at the Top 25, rounded out by: craft beer, e-reader, game changer, a new definition for "gassed" as slang for drained of energy, gastropub, geocaching, shovel-ready (a construction site ready for work) and tipping point.

Among the additions:

aha moment noun (1939): a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition or comprehension

brain cramp noun (1982): an instance of temporary mental confusion resulting in an error or lapse of judgment

bucket list noun (2006): a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying

energy drink noun (1904): a usually carbonated beverage that typically contains caffeine and other ingredients (as taurine and ginseng) intended to increase the drinker's energy

e-reader noun (1999): a handheld electronic device designed to be used for reading e-books and similar material

game changer noun (1993): a newly introduced element or factor that changes an existing situation or activity in a significant way

life coach noun (1986): an adviser who helps people make decisions, set and reach goals, or deal with problems

man cave noun (1992): a room or space (as in a basement) designed according to the taste of the man of the house to be used as his personal area for hobbies and leisure activities

mashup noun (1859): something created by combining elements from two or more sources: as a: a piece of music created by digitally overlaying an instrumental track with a vocal track from a different recording; b: a movie or video having characters or situations from other sources; c: a Web service or application that integrates data and functionalities from various online sources

sexting noun (2007): the sending of sexually explicit messages or images by cellphone

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