Saturday, May 13, 2006

Thoughts on the Campaign for Concept as A Verb

Slate ran an article about Ray Del Salvio’s campaign to get the word “concept,” as a verb into the dictionary. “Concept” is apparently widely used in the advertising industry, but it is not included with that meaning in the dictionary. Ray Del Salvio has set about trying to correct this injustice and the article, by OED editor and Slate language columnist, Jesse Sheidlower, does a good job of explaining Ray’s campaign and putting it into the larger context of how words get into a dictionary and what might actually be the best way to get a word in the dictionary.

However, the article fails to address one very important question.


There is nothing magical or special about a word being in the dictionary. Lots of words aren’t in many dictionaries and that doesn’t mean they are less real or legitimate. It seems silly for someone to complain about professional jargon (that apparently isn’t even that widely used) not being in the dictionary.

Professional jargon is restricted slang, the in-language of a particular occupation and in any given profession there is a lot of it. Sometimes this jargon becomes widely used and significant, but most of the time it is only of interest to the people that are in that profession. Jargon is ever-expanding and continually changing. Hacker and tech culture has done a lovely job of documenting the subset of their terminology in the Jargon File, which is a massive compendium of mostly very restricted and uncommon vocabulary. What percentage of these terms are in any widely used dictionary? Not many, but that’s not the point.

There is lots of jargon in the world that is widely used in professions without being in the dictionary. Not being in the dictionary doesn’t inhibit you from using the word, a point Ray Del Salvio is surely aware of. He seems fairly confident that it’s a word, so why bother with the validation of a dictionary?


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