How Politics Is Shaping Language: 'Dark Money' Added To Dictionary | KUOW News and Information

How Politics Is Shaping Language: 'Dark Money' Added To Dictionary

May 27, 2015
Originally published on May 28, 2015 5:46 am

Merriam-Webster has released its latest list of new entries, and unsurprisingly, a good share of the words are the products of the internet ("NSFW," "meme," and "clickbait" are among this year's rookie entries). But most years, politics and current events popularize new concepts enough to drag them into the official lexicon.

Transparency advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington took to Twitter to highlight dark money ("money contributed to nonprofit organizations that is used to fund political campaigns without disclosure of the donors' identities," as Merriam-Webster defines it), one of this year's new additions from the political sphere.

We looked back at recent lists of new words at Merriam-Webster, as well as the Oxford English Dictionary. Below is a(n admittedly incomplete) rundown of political topics and concepts that the reference books/sites have added over the last few years:

2002: big government, borking (OED)

2006: Emily's List, Freddie Mac, POTUS, post-partisan, Sallie Mae (OED)

2008: netroots (M-W)

2009: earmark (M-W)

2010: class warrior (OED)

2012: systemic risk (M-W), super PAC, supermajority, superdelegate (OED)

2013: veepstakes (OED), Randian (OED)

2014: fracking (M-W), G20 (OED)

2015: dark money, net neutrality (M-W)

(And for further proof of how much politics drives and shapes language, look at the words Merriam-Webster's publishers have chosen for the words of the year over the last few years: bailout (2008), austerity (2010), socialism and capitalism (2012).)

The tech sphere is the most obvious source of new language, but the lists of new words also show how much we've updated language to describe the incremental shifts in how we govern ourselves. Even the relatively stodgy area of politics has to keep reinventing language — just as "netizen" has gone extinct and "tweeps" has risen, "soft money" is meaningless these days, while "dark money" is a Washington buzzword. Tech is splashier (and less controversial), but it's a reminder that government — and how we fight about it — keeps innovating, for better or worse, and we keep coming up with new ways to name just what those innovations are.

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