Why the editor of the Macquarie Dictionary just said 'charity f**k' in front of thousands of people

Macquarie Dictionary editor Susan Butler.

Charity f**k means to have sex with someone out of mercy or pity, and it’s a serious contender to end up being defined in the Macquarie Dictionary this year.

Susan Butler, the dictionary’s editor, just said so at TedX Sydney.

After editing the Macquarie Dictionary for over 30 years Butler has seen how the Internet has transformed the English language and says many people think she has enormous power to decide which words enter the dictionary and those banished to oblivion.

She says it isn’t so – it’s people who make the mess with language – she just tidies it up and explains it neatly.

The digital transformation of language is a movement she has witnessed as the lady with the “mop and bucket” at the helm of Australia’s dictionary.

The changing usage notes in the dictionary show there is a “generational shift going on in language”.

Butler says the role of the dictionary is to record the words people use and the way they use them. The race is on to get the newest of newest words.

Back in 2008 the word ‘bromance’ was added to the Macquarie Dictionary. It’s an addition Butler describes as “surprisingly durable”. And by the end of the year, words like lookbook (an online portfolio of photos), mancation (a men-only vacation) and charity f*ck (explained above) could also be defined by the national arbiter of language.

“All these words could be in the dictionary online by the end of the year,” Butler said.

She said there was once more “restraints” and rules of what was deemed appropriate to be included in the dictionary, based on print runs and how many pages could be printed. But with the Internet making it simpler to check the origins and use of new words, the dictionary’s online version has been blown wide open.

“The emphasis now is on establishing currency in the community, or section of the community and then writing the most accurate descriptions,” she said.

There are still some elements of language which the dictionary decisionmakers do avoid, including family coinages like psghetti instead of the word spaghetti and most things that poets say, but a few examples have pushed there way in, including ‘choo choo’, meaning train.

“The dictionary has the power to make the language visible to the community that use it. You can ‘get a grip’, so to speak, of Australian English from the pages of the Macquarie dictionary. And this is why we wave it around as a rather bulky national flag and why we all feel that we have so much invested in it,” Butler said.

And finally, Butler would like you all to know that “a lot” – as in “I like you a lot” – is TWO words, not one.

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