Social Media Transforms the English Language: Begins Crowdsourcing New Words

Alex Brown

Social media went from a cool way to network to a way of life in a matter of a couple of years. The mass adoption and consumption of information in real-time, abbreviated form has changed the way people communicate now and forever.For this reason, the Collins Dictionary editors decided that it was time to invite the public to contribute to the word submission process. Our business is almost 200 years old, and we’ve always strived to keep a live snapshot of English. What better way to stay up to date than to turn to the masses on social media, which is changing the English language at an unprecedented rate.
That’s exactly what we did. In July, we opened up to crowdsourcing, encouraging English speakers from around the world to submit words they believe should be included in the dictionary. More than 1,500 suggestions were made in the first week at, with many of the submitted words emerging from social media and technology, as well as pop culture.

Because the English language is evolving so quickly, it can be difficult to stay up to speed. Five years ago, if I’d asked you to “Follow me,” you would have asked, “Where?” Now it has a completely different meaning because of the rise of social media. Our assimilation into a culture of online lingo has changed the way we communicate, which needs to be recognized and recorded by an authority such as Collins Dictionary.These days, it’s just as likely for someone to look up the meaning of a buzzword they’ve seen online, as for them to search for a word they’ve encountered at school, work or college.

Opening up the submission process to the public doesn’t mean that just any word will be included. We’ll continue to rely on the same rigorous vetting process we’ve always used to make sure that, while we stay current, we also stay credible. Encouraging participation by celebrities, bloggers and the public makes the selection process even more complete by making sure we don’t miss words that might just be entering the lexicon.

So far, we’ve seen submissions such “tweeps,” “Tebowing,” “cray” and “yolo.” These words have skyrocketed to popularity because of the reach that social media gives to pop culture influencers. The prevalence of online networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google has fueled the discussion and increased the speed of adoption. While some of the more trendy language will certainly fade, there are some words that will be in our conversations for a long time to come.

To increase the likelihood that a word will be included, submitters must make a compelling case for their entries, such as providing example sentences or word origins. A higher number of overall uses could also help a word get noticed. In a matter of a few weeks, the Collins Dictionary editors will provide feedback on suggestions, and any submissions that aren’t accepted will continue to be monitored and reviewed.

We look forward to officially adding the first batch of winning words and seeing social media continue to shape the English language as we make this a permanent feature on our website. Don’t forget to spread the word using #whatsyourword!


Alex Brown is the head of digital at Collins.