More than a half a million new words coined between 1950 and 2000 that failed to make it into dictionaries are about to be uncovered. A substantial piece of research by Harvard University in conjunction with Google and Encyclopaedia Britannica (remember them?) will use digitized books as a ‘cultural genome’. The researchers report that: “52 per cent of the English lexicon – the majority of words used in English books – consist of lexical ‘dark matter’ undocumented in standard references.” Google will release a new tool that will enable users to discover how the use of words and phrase has changed over time.
It’s all part of a project to create a digital ‘fossil record’ of human culture by tracking the frequency with which words appear in books over time.
And as if to prove they’re no fossils themselves, the researchers have given their new discipline a name of its own – ‘culturomics’.
This word, of course, is not yet in the dictionary. Neither will your spellchecker like it, whatever form of the English language you use.