Monday, January 08, 2007

Have you been "plutoed"?

I've been thinking about words lately. How we use them, how sometimes they just seem inadequate to express what we wish to express, and the creation and evolution of words.

I'm in the middle of reading The Professor and the Madman, which tells the story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). What has intrigued me most, so far, is the history and development of dictionaries. I'd never really thought about it until reading The Professor and the Madman, but Shakespeare and other early writers couldn't just "look it up" when unsure of a word's meaning or proper/current usage.

Early dictionaries were not terribly comprehensive and were meant only to be a record of current word meanings and correct usage. Rule books of language. Then came Samuel Johnson's dictionary followed about 100 years later by the enormous 70 year project we call the OED. Both of these dictionaries took on a far greater task than merely defining a narrow selection of words and providing proper usage. I can still remember discovering that the OED was a history of words and their meanings and usage. The OED captures, to the best of our knowledge, the origin of all English words and then provides a series of quotes showing usage over time. The word "dictionary" became much richer on the day I discovered the OED. No longer did I view that reference type as simply a rule book.

So how does all of this relate to Pluto? And what is "plutoed"? Evidently Pluto has become a verb when I wasn't looking. Seeing the word "Pluto," many of us will think of the "planet-formerly-called-Pluto." Some of us might think of the Roman god Pluto. Still others might think of a famous cartoon character who goes by that name. Nouns all. But the history of the word Pluto has just been expanded. One can now be "plutoed." OED, take note ... pluto is evolving.

According to a news article I read today, "[t]o 'pluto' is 'to demote or devalue someone or something,' much like what happened to the former planet last year when the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union decided Pluto didn't meet its definition of a planet." Not only has the word Pluto expanded in meaning and usage, but "plutoed" was chosen 2006's Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society at its annual meeting Friday, January 5th. Quite an honor for such a young word.


  1. I just noticed that online article about word "plutoed" the other day. I hope I never get plutoed! Oh, and The Professor and the Madman sounds great.

  2. Dear god, I love the OED with an unholy love. And yes, I am indeed a librarian. Were you just delurking for National Delurking Week? In any case, thanks for dropping by! I love meeting new blogs to check out...

  3. KP, Glad to find a fellow OED lover out there! I've got the compact edition and my husband cracks up when he comes home and finds me hovering over this HUGE tome with a powerful magnifying glass. Of course then he is required to listen to my lengthy "did you know ...???" oratory based on whatever I was looking at. Looks like we have some other reading interests in common as well.

  4. Plutoed! I understood it immediately! That's a great word!

    And I think I shall now have to obtain an OED and The Professor and the Madman!

    Thanks for stopping by and introducing yourself. Mary-LUE seems to always keep very excellent company.


  5. I think you are the only person I have come across who has heard of and is actually reading "The Professor and the Madman" - I read it some time ago and found it fascinating, really. How fun to find this post and someone else who reads, well, books about making dictionaries. :)