Wednesday 12 September 2012

new words

I’m always on the lookout for words that people use but that aren’t (yet) in LPD, so that I can add them for the next edition, whenever that may be. (Last time, the publisher abruptly asked for 5,000 additional entries, which is not something one can supply overnight or at a few weeks’ notice. Better to be prepared.)

One such word I have seen or heard a few times recently is ghrelin, the hunger-stimulating peptide and hormone. This word has not yet made it into the OED, or indeed to any dictionary that I know of. But it scores a million and a half Google hits.

The origin of the name is acronymic: growth hormone-releasing peptide, with the -in suffix characteristic of hormones, perhaps from inducing. Wikipedia claims that the name also bears reference to the IE root ghrē ‘grow’ (as in green, grow, crescent, increase, etc.), though this is clearly coincidental.

The discovery of ghrelin was reported by Masayasu Kojima and colleagues in 1999. The name is based on its role as a ''growth hormone-releasing peptide'', with reference to the Proto-Indo-European root ''ghre'', meaning ''to grow''. The name can also be viewed as an interesting (and incidental) pun, too, as the initial letters of the phrase ''growth hormone-releasing'' give us "ghre" with "lin" as a usual suffix for some hormones.

The only pronunciation I have heard is ˈɡrelɪn.

Another word new to me is inotrope, with its adjective inotropic. An inotrope is ‘an agent that alters the force or energy of muscular contractions’ (Wikipedia). This word has a straightforward etymology, from Greek via scientific German, as befits a medical term. The first part is from the Greek ἴς, ἴν-ός, ῑν- ís, ín-os, īn-‘muscle, fibre, nerve, strength’ (OED). My cardiologist pronounces it ˈaɪnətrəʊp, which is also what Wikipedia gives, though the OED, at inotropic, hesitates between and ɪ as the initial vowel. The M-W Collegiate also offers the possibility of initial for the adjective.

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I shall be busy over the next two days. Next posting: 17 Sep.


  1. If I were still teaching and one of these words came up, I would want to know:

    • what sorts of speakers used the word
    • how each sort of speaker pronounced it

    Obviously the pronunciation(s) used by specialists would have to be canvassed. But if a word has escaped into public use, the non-specialist choice(s) would be worth knowing.

    I think of the 'end user': the students for whose benefit the teacher is looking up the pronunciation, or the students looking it up for themselves. Either way, different choices may be appropriate for different end users.

    (Not that I anticipate a popular pronunciation for ghrelin or inotropic.)

  2. One place you might find new words not yet in LPD is Wiktionary's Word of the Day. Recently, variadic was the word of the day, but it had no pronunciation information until I added it. I went to LPD to find out how to pronounce it and it wasn't there! So I went to YouTube to find recordings of it "in the wild". I only heard Americans pronouncing it, so I added /vɛɹiˈædɪk/ based on what I heard. (Wiktionary and Wikipedia use ɛ for your e and Wiktionary, unlike Wikipedia, uses ɹ for your r.) Then, based on your transcription of variable and variation I extrapolated the RP pronunciation /vɛəɹiˈædɪk/ and added that too.

    Maybe there are other words in the archive that aren't in LPD yet.

  3. "Crescent"/"increase" do not appear to be related to *ghre-, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots (from which you show a screenshot).

  4. So what then, if not this, do YOU think is the IE origin of Latin cresc-o, -ere?

    1. Lewis & Short say cresco is from creo 'create', which in turn is 'kindred with Sanscr. kar, kri, to make'.

    2. Thanks. I haven't got a L&S at home any more.

  5. Here's one: would you include WikiLeaks? (I see you have Napster, so assume it's fair game.) If so, what vowel is there in the second syllable? I definitely heard it as [ɪ] when William Hague was talking about it, but presumably as a Yorkshireman he wouldn't distinguish KIT and happY vowels in any case(?)
    fə fʊl neɪm siː prəʊfaɪl

  6. It's already in my list:
    WikiLeaks ˈwɪk i liːks

    -- and Wikipedia is already in the third edition. For my speech, too, the happY vowel ("i") = [ɪ]. This vowel is morpheme-final here.

    1. Many thanks. I see that for Wikipedia, Wikipedia itself offers /ɨ/ as the first alternative (article, scheme), and also Wiktionary offers /ɪ/ for BrE (entry, scheme); there are audio clips there too, though I can't play them right now. Arguably, though, the morpheme division is more obvious in WikiLeaks than Wikipedia.

    2. I have a three-way happY/rabbIt/commA distinction, and of those three weak vowels, it's definitely rabbIt in the second syllable of "Wikipedia", but happY in that of "Wikileaks", "Wikinews" etc.

      While Wikis predate Wikipedia by several years, I suspect that Wikipedia was most people's introduction to the concept (indeed, many speakers use "Wiki" as a mere abbreviation of "Wikipedia", apparently unaware that there is any semantic distinction).

      Hence the word "Wikipedia" was not transparently composed of the morphemes Wiki- and -pedia when it was first learned, by most people. Hence the use of rabbIt rather than happY.

    3. Speaking personally, I have the same three-way distinction, but use rabbIt for the y in anything, even though the morpheme boundary couldn't be more obvious. But maybe that's just me.

  7. I too use the [ɪ ~ ə] of rabbIt in Wikipedia but the [i] of happY in WikiLeaks, not to mention Wikisource, Wikibooks and Wikimedia. Probably because the latter three all have a free morpheme after the "wiki-", but Wikipedia doesn't.

  8. The 5th edition (2011) of the American Heritage Dictionary includes the word ghrelin, as does the Merriam-Webster medical dictionary. I used to be the etymologist for the AHD, before Houghton Mifflin Harcourt laid off the dictionary staff after the completion of the 5th edition, because lexicographical publishing is no longer profitable. I was perhaps the one who pushed to the word ghrelin, just so I could write the odd etymology. I pondered for a long time whether to write "ghrelin, from Proto-Indo-European *ghrē-" or formulate it in the way I did eventually. If I remember correctly, the discoverers of the hormone mention the Indo-European root in their original publication of the discovery in Nature 402(6762): 656–60, so the first part of the word may be a backronym rather than an acronym. I am sure I checked their publication when I wrote the etymology, but my memory may be faulty. The AHD entry and etymology for ghrelin can be read here:
    Unfortunately, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has not yet put the revised appendices of Indo-European and Semitic roots online, and thus the root reference to *ghrē- in the etymology of the word "grow" cross-referenced at "ghrelin" in the AHD goes nowhere. However, the appendices of roots from the 4th edition are still available online here:

  9. Just what I needed, thanks a lot….

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