How Dictionaries Define Publicity: The Word of the Year

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When editors at the New Oxford American Dictionary recently announced that their word of the year was “locavore,” which means someone who eats locally grown food, they also became the very definition of publicity.

In the last few weeks Ben Zimmer, an Oxford University Press dictionary editor, appeared on numerous radio shows and on a syndicated public radio program to talk about the word contest. The selection of locavore also had 25 mentions in major newspapers like The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post.

“There are very few good ways to get publicity for a dictionary,” said Erin McKean, a lexicographer at Oxford. While publishers can rely on coverage for new entries in just-published dictionaries, some reference books go for as long as a decade between revisions. “We are constantly surveilling the language to see what new words people are coming up with,” Ms. McKean said.

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