Research & Insights

By Tim Matthews, June 20, 2013

Crowdsourcing Hits the Philologian Trifecta

Perhaps it was only industry insiders, linguists and lexicographers who noticed crowdsourcing achieved an important milestone last week when the Oxford English Dictionary added the word to its June 2013 edition. Now all the big three – OED, M-W, AH – accept the tech term.

Like most words, exact origins are hard to nail down. The common origin, cited by all three publishers, is 2006 by Wired writer Jeff Howe in his article The Rise of Crowdsourcing. Howe told the late linguistic great William Safire that he created the portmanteau jokingly while pitching his the article to his editor:

Comes now Jeff Howe, contributing editor for Wired magazine, who recalls pitching an article idea in 2005 to Mark Robinson, his editor there, about how the Internet was helping businesses use amateurs to replace professionals. He reports that Robinson said, “Hmmm … it’s like they’re outsourcing to the crowd.”

“Or,” Howe informs me, “I said, crowdsourcing. Frankly, I was joking. Silicon Valley’s affection for portmanteaus is a bit of an inside joke at Wired. But Mark liked my story idea, and liked the word even more.”

In any case, crowdsourcing gained legitimacy at warp speed by wordnik standards. AH added it circa 2010 and M-W allowed it in 2011. In so doing, crowdsourcing matched the fastest word ever adopted by Merriam-Webster. The verb Google was added in 2006, also five years after the first citation, and just in time for the crowd (Warp drive, BTW, was itself a bit poky at 23 years).

How exactly do lexicographers decide when it’s time? Editors typically track new words from the point of first citation. Just not all of them make the cut. Crowdsourcing was being scouted as early as 2008 by the big three, as shown below.


How do tech terms become legit? Computerworld State of Technology Terms in Dictionaries (Computerworld September 23, 2008)

OED’s class of June 2013 also included our kissing cousin big data (which despite all the data din took 33 years from first citation!) and wingsuit, which reminds us of the thrill of working at a Silicon Valley startup.