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‘Pleather,’ ‘MP3’ among dictionary’s new words

"Teensploitation," “pleather,” “MP3,” and “information technology” are among the other words and phrases that have gotten the nod from the editors at Merriam-Webster in the annual update of their dictionary.
/ Source: The Associated Press

“Teensploitation’s” time has come — at least in the dictionary.

“Pleather,” “body wrap,” “MP3,” and “information technology” are among the other words and phrases that have gotten the nod from the editors at Merriam-Webster in the annual update of their Collegiate Dictionary.

The inclusion of teensploitation — the exploitation of teenagers by the producers of teen-oriented films — comes 22 years after the word first appeared in show-business publications, said John M. Morse, president and publisher of the Springfield-based dictionary company.

The word is an offshoot of “blaxploitation,” coined in the 1970s to refer to the exploitation of blacks by film producers.

“It’s interesting because we have a new word spawned by another a decade later,” Morse said.

Language as a 'window into our culture'
As a lexicographer, Morse said he approached the words with some caution, concerned they might be “a fad of the moment.” Still, over the past two decades “teensploitation” has moved from entertainment magazines to mainstream publications such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New York Times.

And it is when a word or new usage becomes used with some frequency by the popular press that it becomes a candidate for the dictionary.

“Language is a window into our culture and history and the way we try to think,” he said. “It is continually evolving and there are a lot of word enthusiasts in the world.”

About a year after publication of its 11th edition of its Collegiate Dictionary — a wholesale updating done once a decade — the book has gone through four printings with a total of 1 million volumes printed, Morse said.

It typically takes 20 years of use for a word to become prominent enough to merit a place in an abridged dictionary, such as the Collegiate, he said.

“Pleather” — a plastic fabric made to look like leather — first appeared in 1982 and “body wrap,” referring to a beauty treatment, appeared in 1974.

But the Internet has speeded that up. And some of this year’s new words had to wait a fraction of that time.

Darmstadtium was officially approved as the name for element No. 110 in 2003 and MP3 — as the name for a computer file or the audio file format — first appeared in 1996.

Goggles have been part of the English language and used as eye protection since 1715. But it is only recently that the noun has also come to mean electronic devices enabling night vision or producing images in a virtual reality display.

Other high-tech words have taken a bit longer to catch on. High-speed Internet access over a “digital subscriber line,” has been available since 1982, but DSL is only now making its debut in the Collegiate.

“Information technology” — also better known by its acronym IT — was first used to refer to the development, maintenance and use of computer systems, software and networks in 1978.