Latest word on ‘levidrome’: Oxford says it’s not ready, but linguist begs to differ

Oxford English Dictionaries says it’s not ready to add the word levidrome, coined by an Oak Bay boy, but a University of B.C. linguistics professor argues the criteria for getting words in the dictionary might need updating.

To get into Oxford English Dictionaries, levidrome needs to be in common usage, Rebecca Juganaru, a senior assistant editor for Oxford Dictionaries, said last week. “We are still not seeing a lot of natural use of levidrome on our databases (most usage is in newspaper articles about the word),” she wrote.

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But it’s often difficult to find certain words in regular discourse, said UBC associate linguistics professor Stefan Dollinger, who was in London, England.

“Using levidrome naturally, not just talking about it, is a very high bar,” Dollinger said. “That’s a tall order. How often do you talk about palindromes, or levidromes?”

The word levidrome was coined by seven-year-old Levi Budd, a Grade 3 student at St. Michaels University School, to describe a word that spells another backward — such as loop and pool.

Levi named levidrome after himself, based on the word palindrome — which reads as the same word backward and forward, such as madam or kayak.

There’s no word for the phenomenon in a printed dictionary, though those proposed include antigram, heterodrome and semordnilap (palindromes spelled backward).

“None stuck,” Dollinger said.

The UBC professor said if dictionary makers don’t listen to people, they’ll turn to less authoritative sources — such as urban dictionary.com.

He noted that the word “tweet” only recently got into the Oxford English Dictionary, about a decade late, adding: “We’re surmising that if Levi was a member of the Oxford circles, he’d have his word listed rather sooner.”

Though Oxford might not be ready to add the word levidrome, it is still tracking its usage.

“Generally, it takes years for words to gain enough currency to be added, so it is not surprising that after only a year of being widely known, there is not enough evidence for inclusion yet,” Juganaru wrote.

Oxford Dictionaries maintains a database of potential additions, said Juganaru, with final selection based on factors including frequency of use, spread, longevity and other factors.

It was one year ago last week that a video was posted by Levi’s parents asking people to share the new word. A month later, in November 2017, Oxford Dictionaries — petitioned by Canadian actor William Shatner — acknowledged the campaign and urged the boy to get the word into common usage. “In a year or so, if lots of people are still using your word, it might well get into our dictionary,” Juganaru said at the time.

Levi’s father, Robert Budd, said he’s not discouraged by Oxford’s update.

“We knew this was going to be a long-term process and it has been thrilling watching the word levidrome gain momentum and become more widespread until it is part of the lexicon,” Budd said.

“Just today, a Grade 8 class from Wayne, New Jersey, posted a board of levidrome words. It is wonderful to watch Levi’s idea ripple out.”

As for Levi, he is unfazed: “Of course it’s going to take time,” he told his dad on Thursday. “Getting a word in the dictionary is a big deal.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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