Merriam-Webster Tackles Worldbuilding

As LitHub pointed out in a recent interview, Merriam-Webster’s social media game is on point. Yes, Merriam-Webster as in the dictionary—and the many clever, irreverent folks who dream up snappy tweets and thoughtful blog posts about etymology and wordplay. The site has a keen eye for which words are trending in pop culture, and their choices are impressively up-to-date: in omnia paratus after the premiere of Netflix’s Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Lifemonolith after Jon Stewart dropped it multiple times in one interview; and so forth. What’s more, the site’s Words We’re Watching feature highlights those bits of slang or evolutions in language that are on Merriam-Webster’s radar but haven’t yet gotten the official stamp of approval for inclusion. Take, for instance, when Daniel José Older tweeted:

Merriam-Webster responded within six weeks—and their Words We’re Watching entry for worldbuilding delved into the SFF community for answers.

The post quotes Charlie Jane Anders’ io9 piece “7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding,” as well as tweets from Kameron Hurley and Maria Dahvana Headley, to establish worldbuilding‘s current definition as firmly entrenched in the worlds of SFF and creating art. But Merriam-Webster also delved into the etymology of the word—which they are more likely to spell as world-building—with some surprising facts about its history. Such as the fact that one of its earliest recorded uses, in 1805, described geologic formations; that the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw the concept adopted by novelists and poets to describe how their imagination fed into their creative processes; or the fact that one of its first modern uses in the form we know it as now was in a 1975 PhD dissertation involving Frank Herbert’s Dune.

In each case, Merriam-Webster explains why worldbuilding didn’t make it into the dictionary of the time. And while the jury is still out on this one, the dictionary’s FAQ explains one of the main criteria to becoming a dictionary entry: number of citations, or usages. So, you know what you have to do now: tweet and blog all about worldbuilding!


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