Steampunk, which first popped up being used as a word in 1987, finally made its way into the dictionary this week. But just how did it arrive there? It turns out, with a lot of help from the movie Hellboy.
Among the definitions added to the latest edition of Merriam Webster (which brings us other such necessary additions as pho, big data, freegan, and fracking) was the 27-year-old term "steampunk." So what was it that made the world finally make the leap into the dictionary?
Fortunately, Merriam Webster lexicographer Kory Stamper was on deck with an answer:
I have an answer! It may be totally unsatisfactory!
Two things to keep in mind:
1. Words get into the Collegiate Dictionary once they've become well-established and have sustained general use; and
2. The date of first written use doesn't necessarily mark the point at which that word becomes well-established in general use.
"Steampunk" was overdue for entry, I'll grant you, but if you look at the historical evidence for it, the bulk of the sustained general use starts in 2004. You can analyze the data in a general corpus like Lexis-Nexis and find that "steampunk" has single-digit hits until 2003, and then really goes bonkers in 2004 as folks use it in movie reviews for "Hellboy." (Don't ask me, I just collect the evidence.)