Macquarie Dictionary Blog
Why the Word of the Year is made up of two other words
Jan 16, 2018
Well, the milkshake duck has brought all the people to the yard. Or at least to our twitter feed.
And they’re like,
"It’s not one word, it’s two."
And so once again we embark on the journey to explain what we, as a dictionary, mean when we refer to something as a word.
The English language has the great capacity to create new words and new meanings from existing words. One of the more common ways we form new words in English is by putting together two (or more!) existing words together to form a new word with a new meaning. This is technically known as a lexical item or lexical unit.
Essentially, a 'word' is the item that you look up in the dictionary to find the meaning.
Sometimes these new creations end up as a blended word, known as a portmanteau . For example plandid [planned + candid], framily [friends + family] or sheeple [sheep + people].
Sometimes words receive affixes, as in endling, subtweet or transhumanism.
And sometimes two whole words are smashed together as in hatfishing, makerspace or shadowban.
Or, somewhat less dramatically, words are simply placed next to each other, as in milkshake duck, dark state or click farm.
Language is a moveable feast. The forms of words can change over time, inserting or removing hyphens and spaces, dropping letters, fusing into a single unit. Take for example electronic mail which then became e-mail and is now most frequently used as email.
So when confronted with a word that is made up of two words like milkshake duck, this is counted as a new lexical item which needs a new entry in the dictionary. Because using our existing understanding of milkshake – a deliciously sweet dairy drink – and of duck – (which has many different meanings!) the animal, the action of lowering, a type of cotton fabric, a military vehicle, a cricket term – doesn't really give us the essence of what this new term actually means. In fact, it may just confuse us even more.
So whether you love it or hate it, the beloved milkshake duck is the Word of the Year.
And if you hate it, then have your say in the People’s Choice and vote for your favourite lexical item word.
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