New Food Words in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2021
Fluffernutter: a sandwich made with peanut butter and marshmallow creme between two slices of white sandwich bread.
If you’re from the Northeast, you might be familiar with the sweet “delicacy” known as fluffernutter. While the sandwich is most popular in the New England region (it was invented in Massachusetts in the second decade of the 20th century), its influence and prevalence has spread across the country over the past century. . In Los Angeles, you’ll find a fried version with bananas at three of Antonia Lofaso’s restaurants (Black Market Liquor Bar, Dama, and Scopa Italian Roots). The Little Fish pop-up in Echo Park is known for serving a fluffernutter for dessert.
But the word fluffernutter didn’t officially enter the Merriam-Webster dictionary until October, along with 455 other new words.
New words often reflect big stories of the year or notable changes in our culture. The word of the year 2021 is “vaccine”, preceded by “pandemic” in 2020, two testimonies of a terrible time.
Other words – clearly – take longer.
Like all additions to this dictionary, fluffernutter began as a “quote”, a sort of record that includes context and source, which is added to a searchable database. The word was added to this database in 1961 after an editor cited use of the word in an advertisement. Over the years, more and more Merriam-Webster editors have monitored its use, considering the word for inclusion in future editions of the dictionary. But fluffernutter was rejected for inclusion in 1980, then again in 1983, 1993 and 2003, before finally achieving dictionary word status this year.
“It’s a word that took a while to get into the dictionary, but it also shows that the process is the same for every word,” Merriam-Webster editor Peter Sokolowski said during a recent call. “We always look for three basic criteria: widespread use, long-term use and meaningful use. When we talk about long-term and widespread use, there is no specific number, but there is a kind of critical mass that needs to be accumulated.
The word COVID-19 was added to the dictionary only 34 days after it was coined.
Sokolowski is part of a small team of about 25 people who work all day, every day on the dictionary. If he gets excited about a new word, there’s no big announcement for his colleagues. Instead, he finds five or six or maybe even 10 examples of that word, writes a quick definition, and enters it into a large shared document to review as the team considers words for new versions.
“It’s a way to kick things off and allow a word to grow,” said Sokolowski, clearly excited about what must be one of the fascinating rituals in the world of reference books. “We also have to make the final decision, which is the executive’s only real decision – when to install it, after it’s been used by many people in many places.”
The team is built like a school faculty (and I can’t help but focus on having a relatively small group making those important, albeit sometimes seemingly random, decisions about what goes into the dictionary and when). Some members may be particularly skilled in science, mathematics, physics, linguistics or music. At one time there was an art historian, a biographer and a geographer on staff. But there is no specific expert who works on a single category of words. And there’s no Gordon Ramsay sifting through food-related terms to figure out what makes a difference. When reviewing a food word, the team may consider restaurant menu quotes, restaurant reviews, and online recipes.
“Specialities are important on our side, but we hope you won’t notice that,” Sokolowski said. “We want a diversity of training and all types of staff training to make definitions that work for everyone.”
This year, the team felt that fluffernutter had finally reached the required critical mass. The word joined nine other food-related additions, including Ghost Kitchen, Curbside Pickup, Curbside Delivery, Restaurant and Air Fryer. As a group, these words are a clear reflection of a larger socio-economic shift, the by-products of the pandemic, and the restaurant closure in 2020 that left everyone ordering take-out and delivery. , wanting to eat in and research air fryer recipes for months.
Any surprises on the list of food words? Goetta and roast sausage. A sausage roast, I hope, is self-explanatory. But I had to look for goetta. Do you know fried patties made with meat, oats, onions and spices? The flat and brown lookalikes of dark meat, which were brought to the United States by German immigrants in the 19th century, are popular in Cincinnati — and another example of a slow-moving trend in the dictionary world.
Even more surprising was the addition of horchata and chicharron in 2021, two words that seem to have always been part of the Southern California vernacular. As an Angeleno, I find it hard to believe that horchata and chicharron have only now achieved widespread, long-term, and significant use alongside fluffernutter, especially when the dictionary dates the earliest known use. from chicharron to 1845. But, then, I grew up making frequent family trips to St Olvera.
“Without a doubt, food terms are the most productive word borrowings from foreign languages over the past 20 to 25 years,” Sokolowski said. “Over 100 years ago we had the influx of French haute cuisine like beef bourguignon and coq au vin, but now we have terms like horchata, which you know if you travel to Latin America or if you eat frequently in Mexican Restaurants.Their addition makes them naturalized English-speaking citizens.
In 2019, halloumi, matcha, concasse, cidrerie, mead, chana, royal icing, tallboy and quaffer were added. Previous years, avo, coquito, dragon fruit, flight (as far as tastings go), food bank, gochujang, guac, hangry, hophead, iftar, marg, mise en place, mocktail, quaffable, red bush tea, Wagyu, zoodle and zuke made the cut.
(Zoodle and guac made the cut before chicharron and horchata? I blame Chipotle and social media.)
According to Merriam-Webster’s own “search popularity” on its website, goetta is in the top 27% of words, chicharron is in the top 14%, and fluffernutter is in the top 8%. Expand this language popularity contest to Google, and you’ll find that fluffernutter gets 449,000 search results, goetta 131,000, and chicharron 45.7 million. I let the numbers speak for themselves.
“We’re looking for when people react to that as an English word, but also, if it’s something you don’t know and others are, then maybe you should be,” said Sokolowski. “The perception of things as new or foreign changes over time.”
I asked Sokolowski what other food words might be coming soon. He pointed me to a section of the Merriam-Webster website devoted to words editors look at. But there is one in particular that Sokolowski has his eyes set on.
“Orange wine, and it’s almost late,” he said.