From 'CRISPR' to 'EpiPen': Dictionary Adds Slew of Scientific Words

An artist's image of a molecule of DNA
(Image credit: hywards/Shutterstock)

Times change, and so do languages. And in order to be useful, dictionaries must also be tweaked every now and then. The lexicographers at Merriam-Webster announced today (Feb. 7) that they have added more than 1,000 new words to the dictionary, including many that are related to science, technology and medicine.

"These are words that have demonstrated frequent and increasing use in a variety of sources, and are therefore likely to be encountered by a reader — and should be in the dictionary," the dictionary-makers said in a statement.

The science-related additions include:

CRISPR: A gene-editing technique that has been widely adopted in just the last few years. The acronym is short for "clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats."

The CRISPR system can be used to effectively cut and paste parts of a genome. CRISPR enables scientists to edit DNA with less expense and time, including for controversial applications such as modifying the genes of human embryos.

EpiPen: A brand name of an epinephrine autoinjector, which is used to treat severe allergic reactions.

microbiome: A collection of microorganisms, such as those living in the human gut, or their genomes.

pareidolia: The natural tendency to see faces in objects or patterns.

phytoremediation: The use of plants to clean an environment that's contaminated by waste or pollutants.

prosopagnosia: An inability to recognize familiar faces, sometimes called face blindness.

The inclusion of these words in a general-reference resource is one sign that the technical and scientific concepts are making their way to the general public. In some cases, the Merriam-Webster entry is part of a rising tide of recognition by lexicographers. For example, Oxford Dictionaries added an entry for CRISPR last year.

Original article on Live Science.

Staff Writer
Greg Uyeno is a science journalist. He has studied cognitive science at the University of California, Berkeley and journalism at New York University. He’s always interested in the language of science and the science of language.