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Our Living Language

Don’t despair that your teenage son’s vocabulary seems limited to Uh huh, Sweet! and ‘sup (for "What’s up?"). And don’t fret that smiley faces have replaced perfectly fine words in email. The English language is still breathing and evolving.

Consider these new words and expressions, made legitimate by their inclusion in the latest Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, hot off the press and available online:

  1. cybrarian
  2. hospitalist
  3. amuse-bouche
  4. otology
  5. retronym
  6. zaibatsu
  7. steganography
  8. SARS
  9. chick flick
  10. hazmat

Can you define them? Ready for a vocabulary test? Try to match these brief definitions with the words above.

A. a small complimentary appetizer offered at restaurants.

B. a material that would be a danger to life or to the environment if released without precautions.

C. a term consisting of a noun and a modifier which specifies the original meaning of the noun (example: film camera).

D. a powerful financial and industrial conglomerate of Japan.

E. a severe respiratory illness.

F. a motion picture intended to appeal especially to women.

G. a person whose job is to find, collect, and manage information that is available on the Web.

H. a science that deals with the ear and its diseases.

I. the art or practice of concealing a message, image, or file within another message, image, or file.

J. a physician who specializes in treating hospitalized patients of other physicians.

For the answers, visit Merriam-Webster. You’ll find the matched definitions, along with other linguistic gems such as bikini wax, Wi-Fi, brain freeze, and metadata. Enjoy!

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.