Words missing in dictionaries There could be several reasons. The oldest is the divergent evolution of words across the Atlantic, with both the august Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in the UK and MerriamWebster in the US having their exclusive list of words. This list is not restricted to spelling variations such as jewellery/jewelry or colour/color.
Until the late 1970s Scrabble fans loved the Official Scrabble Players’ Dictionary (OSPD) from the US because it allowed – and defined – so many words that had ‘Q’ ( worth a juicy 10 points) without being followed by a ‘U’, such as qaid, qadi, and qintar. Yet the OSPD excluded cinq (the word for 5 on a dice cube), that being the OED’s only such entry.
Sometimes a dictionary is just plain careless in its editing, leading to inexcusable omissions. These could be particularly infuriating for Scrabble players of yore whose only source of reference was such a ‘hard copy’. Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language: Handy School and Office Edition (HSOE) came in for specific criticism from a Prof Chris McManus, who describes how he made the word ‘deep’ during a word game, only to have his young opponent exclaim triumphantly “Deep isn’t a dictionary word!”, after consulting the HSOE. Not just that, but page 322 ended with the entry ‘whirlpool’ and page 323 began with the entry ‘wild-eyed’: white, wide, wild, whiskers, wig, wigwam, whisper, wife, wield, widow, why and wicked were all missing.
Then there is the question of naughty, vulgar and obscene words. Only a few years ago a handful of eminent dictionary editors dictated terms from lofty heights and decided what words could go in. Soon this era of the prescriptive dictionary ended, and the era of the descriptive one began – one which simply listed and defined all words spoken by the man in the street, with ‘(vulg)’ after the entry being the sole concession to an editor’s propriety.
More recently, Apple came in for criticism for its censorship policies with regard to app content. The iTunes Books’ description of Moby Dick censored the term ‘sperm whale’ as of April 2010. Songs with perceived profanities were also awarded bans, and closer to our topic of discussion today, its app for Ninjawords (the online dictionary) initially met with censorship. That seems to have been revoked, because now it does define the world’s best known and most banned naughty word.