Every year, the famous dictionary welcomes new proper and generic names, which often say a lot about the times. Explanations from Geraldine Moinard, her new managing editor.
Environmental Anxiety, Epiglottitis, and Kickism, NFT, 3rd Place, Shepherd, Measuring Style, Image Greening: Every New Edition of Robert “Little” Leads to the entry of new words and expressions in his group. A Prévert-style inventory also serves as a benchmark, tracing something from the times behind the new expressions. Since its creation in 1967, this long-tested reference dictionary by the late Alan Ray (1928-2020) has surprised by its openness to new uses and modernity. Three questions for new managing editor Geraldine Moinard.
How do you enter new words?
The procedure is well established. We identify new words, the frequency of their use in different types of discourse: the press, literature, social networks … We are primarily interested in their distribution. If they are used often, but in one circle, then the chance of their election is minimal. Much less in any case rare words that circulate, in several different groups and age groups. We also strive to assess its sustainability. It is rare for a “buzzword” to enter our pages less than a year after it appeared, and often much longer. We meet often to discuss it, some words impose themselves, like this year’s NFT or wokism. There may be a vote on the others. We allow ourselves a little bit of subjectivity, which allows us to differentiate ourselves from our competitors. We are often a bit of a pioneer.
“Words can start a new life, like the word ‘insurance’, which is a rare and ancient word even two years ago.”
On the other hand, are there words off your lists?
Not this year and in general it remains extremely rare. Even if the paper version of the dictionary is limiting us, we strive to keep three hundred thousand entries by pushing walls, columns of text, and cheating with the form! Obviously, we don’t have this limitation with the digital version. Although some words age and become unusable, we want them to remain present, and the primary function of a dictionary is to explain and enlighten. Hence we like to follow the words, they can take on different meanings depending on the era, as is the case today with “bail” or “organic” or “unicorn”. Even starting a new life, like “confinement”, a rare and two-year-old word. We always include references about usage, as well as references to related words. Systematic use of measurements is somewhat our trademark. Not because a word entered the dictionary becomes petrified!
By including “iel” in your digital copy a few months ago, you’re raising controversy…
This is not our primary calling. As linguists and lexicographers, we are there to report on the developments of language, to give its meaning and put it into perspective, not to take sides. The word “iel”, which refers to a person of any gender, was invented in 2008, and although it is rarely used, it has gradually gained popularity. Today, it is increasingly used and spread among the younger generations. By our standards, it has its place in the new version. Even if we in and of itself are only pleased that a word or expression causes controversy—because it establishes the population’s association with their language—we have been surprised and often resented by the reactions it elicited. Little Robert It has often been criticized – at the time of its first publication, in 1967, Maurice Druon, permanent secretary of the French Academy, had accused it of “Capture the words in the stream” – But not with such violence.
little robert of french, 2023 edition, 66.90 euros.