Webster’s new dictionary means change for journalists

Internet is still capitalized

Webster’s New World College Dictionary has a fifth edition. Big whoop, you say. But this is not just any dictionary: It’s a new edition of the one used by The Associated Press and many other news outlets. That means many of you should pay attention.

Here’s one biggie: “Healthcare” is now the only spelling listed for what AP and many others write as “health care.” While the 2004 printing of the fourth edition listed “healthcare” as one word, it added, “also written health care.” meaning it preferred one word. The new entry drops that alternate, two-word spelling. “Health care” did not even appear in the third edition, first published in 1996. That’s less than 20 years from birth to “mashup” (a word that appears in the AP stylebook, but not in WNW5). So far, AP is sticking with “health care,” though that could change when the new dictionary is actually on shelves.

(One caveat: We have not yet seen the printed book, whose official publication date is not for a couple of weeks. This column is being written off the WNW5 entries accessed through AP’s online stylebook, which offers the fifth edition as an “add-on,” a word WNW5 still classifies as an Americanism.)

Interestingly, “day care” is still two words in WNW5, and “child care” has no entry at all.

Webster’s New World College has never been in lockstep with other dictionaries. The American Heritage Dictionary, fourth edition, prefers “health care,” with an alternate spelling “healthcare,” while Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate and Unabridged list only “health care.” AmHer lists “daycare” and “childcare” as its preferred spellings; M-W likes “day care” and has no entry for “child care,” one or two words.

WNW was first published in 1951; the second edition arrived in 1970, the third in 1989, and the fourth in 1999. Other dictionaries may update more frequently (especially if they have online versions), but whenever WNW updates, you know it’s a big deal.

WNW5’s publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, says of this new edition:

More than 4,700 entries and senses have been added, including terms from the areas of arts and sports, science and medicine, computers and the internet, food, business, politics, and law (examples include biodefense, cage match, celebutante, derecho, deleverage, hashtag, stevia, and webinar). Tens of thousands of revisions have been made to existing senses to reflect current usage.

Many web aficionados will be unhappy that WNW5 still capitalizes “Internet,” keeps “e-commerce” and “e-book,” and still lists “e-mail” with no alternatives, even though AP prefers “email” and most other dictionaries list the hyphen-less version as at least an alternate spelling.

As is the case with most dictionaries, there is no comprehensive listing of changes or words that have been removed from the dictionary. In other words, it will be next to impossible to figure out what’s really changed, until someone discovers it.

We invite you to tell us what you find, or care about.

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Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl. Tags: , , ,