In the 30 years since the first COBUILD dictionary was published, a whole slew of new words have come into the language and as they have come to grips and become part of everyday use, they have been added to the dictionary.

I’m not just talking about trendy new coins that sometimes make headlines; Think of ubiquitous, bi-clock or after truth. Most of these are never used extensively or often enough to make it into a learner’s dictionary such as COBUILD. Sometimes exceptions are words like selfies, which appeared and became ubiquitous with amazing speed. More interesting, perhaps, are new uses of existing words that go unnoticed in our vocabulary.

In 1987, post meant mail, sticks in the ground and jobs, there is no mention of the kind of post many of us put on social media at the time. Clicking was still about making noise, not something you do with a link, which was still a normal connection rather than a way to switch between webpages. And a thread was a piece of cotton or the flow of your argument, rather than a series of online comments.

Not all of these changes have taken place in the online world, other technological developments have also created new uses. In the 80’s, wireless radio was an old-fashioned term. Nowadays, you can have wireless headphones, speakers, microphones or keyboards. If you are talking about a hybrid right now, you are talking about a type of semi-electric car rather than a plant or animal born from two different species.

With each new version of the dictionary, lexicographers are tracking corpus data to see which new words are being used, as well as to pick up new senses of familiar words.

Like new coins, incorporating new uses requires reaching a certain frequency and distribution range, first in large native-speaker dictionaries, then, as they become even more common places in learner’s dictionaries. Which words do you think could take on new meanings in the years to come?

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