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F-bomb makes it into mainstream dictionary

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    The entry "f-bomb," photographed in New York, Friday, Aug. 10, 2012, is one of the 15 new additions in the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
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NEW YORK >> It’s about freakin’ time.

The term “F-bomb” first surfaced in newspapers more than 20 years ago but only landed in the mainstream Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary today, along with sexting, flexitarian, obesogenic, energy drink and life coach.

In all, the company picks about 100 additions for the 114-year-old dictionary’s annual update, gathering evidence of usage over several years in everything from media to the labels of beer bottles and frozen food.

So who’s responsible for lobbing F-bomb far and wide? Kory Stamper, an associate editor for Merriam-Webster, said she and her fellow word spies at the Massachusetts company traced the word back to 1988, in a Newsday story that had the now-dead Mets catcher Gary Carter talking about how he had given them up, along with other profanities.

But the word didn’t really take off until the late ’90s, after Bobby Knight went heavy on the F-bombs during a locker room tirade.

“We saw another huge spike after Dick Cheney dropped an F-bomb in the Senate in 2004,” and again in 2010 when Vice President Joe Biden did the same thing in the same place, Stamper said.

“It’s a word that is very visually evocative. It’s not just the F-word. It’s F-bomb. You know that it’s going to cause a lot of consternation and possible damage,” she said.

Many online dictionary and reference sites already list F-bomb and other entries Merriam-Webster is only now putting into print. A competitor, Oxford University Press, has F-bomb under consideration for a future update of its New Oxford American Dictionary but beat Merriam-Webster to print on a couple of other newcomers: mash-up, added to the Oxford book in 2005, and cloud computing, included in 2010.

No worries, Stamper said. The dictionary biz isn’t a race.

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