Merriam-Webster Adds ‘Safe Space,’ ‘Microaggression’ to Dictionary


February 8, 2017

Merriam-Webster added the words "safe space" and "microaggression" to its dictionary Tuesday.

The company announced the addition of 1,000 words to its online dictionary to note the "continuing record of our evolving language."

"Just as the English language constantly grows, so does the dictionary," Merriam-Webster said. "More than one thousand new words have been added, including terms from recent advances in science, borrowings from foreign languages, and words from tech, medicine, pop culture, sports, and everything in between. This is a significant addition to our online dictionary, reflecting the breadth of English vocabulary and the speed with which we seek information."

One term added was "safe space." The term has been used widely across college campuses when describing how students dealt with the aftermath of Donald Trump’s victory on Election Day—safe spaces included coloring stations, therapy with puppies, and cry-ins.

The dictionary uses examples of "safe space" from two liberal columnists, Judith Shulevits and Catherine Rampell.

The new definition reads: "a place (as on a college campus) intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations < … student volunteers put up posters advertising that a ‘safe space’ would be available for anyone who found the debate too upsetting. — Judith Shulevitz> <Women, sexual assault victims, people of color, transgender students. College campuses have created ‘safe spaces’ for all sorts of marginalized groups. — Catherine Rampell>"

Rampell’s recent editorials for the Washington Post include "Religious law may be coming to America. But it’s not sharia; it’s Christian" and "Why the white working class votes against itself."

Merriam-Webster also updated the definition of the verb "boo-hoo" adding, "especially in mocking imitation of another’s tears, complaints, unhappiness, etc" to the word's definition.

"Microaggression," another favorite saying on college campuses, was added as well. The definition reads in part, "a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group."

Acronyms for the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) and first lady (FLOTUS) now have their own definitions as does "truther," a synonym for a conspiracy theorist.

Other modern words and phrases that are now listed include: "first world problem," "fast fashion," "throw shade," "face-palm," "side-eye," "binge-watch," and "photobomb."

"Familiar words combine to give us metaphors or imagery like train wreck, side-eye, and weak sauce," Merriam-Webster said. "As for verbs, we can ride shotgun, walk back an opinion, throw shade, face-palm, and geek out with new dictionary entries."

Merriam-Webster added, "Other new compound terms are much more serious, like food insecure."