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Dictionary Adds 'Himbo,' 'Unibrow'

Need tips on how to groom a unibrow or soul patch?

Just google it. Or get a mouse potato to do it for you.

If you're still lost, grab the latest edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary for a definition of those and about 100 other words that have made their way into its pages of American English definitions.

But be warned: you might come across a drama queen (a person given to often excessively emotional performances or reactions), an empty suit (an ineffectual executive), or a himbo (an attractive but vacuous man — think "male bimbo").

"We try to have a mix that addresses the wide range of people's information needs when adding new words," said John Morse, president of the dictionary publisher. "It could be a technical term or some light-hearted slang that sends people to a dictionary."

To make it into the dictionary, a word has to be more than a flash-in-the-pan fad. It needs staying power.

"We need evidence that the word is showing up in publications that people are reading on an everyday basis," Morse said. Lexicographers comb through national newspapers, entertainment magazines, trade journals and Web sites in search of new words and phrases.

As has been the case during the past several years, Merriam-Webster's lexicographers have been largely preoccupied with technology and computers for its latest edition.

Along with defining an intensive computer user as a "mouse potato" (a popular twist on the late 1990's "couch potato" entry for TV watchers), they have given formal definition to one of the Internet's most recognizable names.

"Google is definitely a verb," said Dan Reynolds, a 35-year-old salesman at YES Computers in Northampton. "Google has become like a secondary brain for a lot of people. If you want quick info on something, that's what you do. You Google it."

Respectful of the trademark, Merriam-Webster lowercases the entry but maintains the capitalization while explaining that the verb means "to use the Google search engine" to retrieve online information.

"We're defining a trademark as a verb, just like we did with the word xerox," to photocopy, Morse said.

But don't think the folks at Merriam-Webster are just a bunch of "computer geeks" (a phrase they entered in the dictionary three years ago) — there's a hip side to tracking words.

They're up on their "bling," a term originating in hip-hop music to denote glitzy jewelry.

And the aforementioned "soul patch" — that small growth of beard under a man's lip that seems to fade in and out of fashion every few decades — is certainly much cooler in Merriam-Webster's offices than the growing together of eyebrows in the often-mocked "unibrow."

The editors are also catching up with health and science issues, entering "avian influenza" and cross-referencing the virus entry with the more popular "bird flu."

Environmentalists and alternative energy fans should be heartened by the addition of "biodiesel," which is a fuel made partly with vegetable sources.

"That symbolizes to me that biodiesel is becoming a household word," said Jenna Higgins, a spokeswoman for the National Biodiesel Board. "You know you've arrived when you're in the dictionary."

Adam Gorlick

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