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New Words in The Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

Merriam-Webster has just added 370 new terms to its dictionary, several of which are linked to sustainability. Among the new terms added are “greenwash,” “microgrid,” “oat milk” and “plant-based,” as well as other sustainability-related terms like “supply chain” and “virtue signaling.” So, what are their definitions?

Merriam Webster Dictionary
Merriam Webster | Flickr

First used in 1986 by environmentalist Jay Westerveld, “greenwashing” was originally coined in reference to the hotel industry, which was claiming that reusing bath towels was part of a sustainability strategy when it was really just to save money. Since then, the use of the term has become widespread as more companies try to redefine their actions in the name of sustainability.

Now, the term is officially in the dictionary. As a verb, Merriam-Webster defines greenwash as “to make (something, such as a product, policy, or practice) appear to be more environmentally friendly or less environmentally damaging than it really is,” or “to mislead (someone) by means of greenwashing.” As a noun, it is defined as, “something (such as a claim or action) that is intended to make a product, policy, activity, etc. appear to be more environmentally friendly or less environmentally damaging than it really is.”

Some popular food-related terms, such as “oat milk” and “plant-based,” have also been added to the dictionary. Oat milk is defined as “a liquid made from ground oats and water that is usually fortified (as with calcium and vitamins) and used as a milk substitute” and the plant-based entry says “made or derived from plants” or “consisting primarily or entirely of food (such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, oils, and beans) derived from plants.” The term “oat milk” was first used in 1980, and the term “plant-based” was first used in 1960, according to Merriam-Webster.

With its new dictionary definition, “oat milk” could help some companies retain the use of the term in non-dairy products as the dairy industry argues using “milk” for dairy substitutes could be confusing to consumers.

“Microgrid” has also landed in the dictionary, generally described as “a small grid” but more specifically defined as “a local electrical grid that can be connected to a larger network but that is also capable of operating independently.” Its first known use was in 1939.

Merriam-Webster also added a common term, “supply chain,” to the dictionary. While this term isn’t exclusive to sustainably-focused companies, it is a term brought up more and more as consumers want to put more support toward ethical and sustainable companies.

“Virtue signaling” is another new term added to Merriam-Webster with the definition, “the act or practice of conspicuously displaying one’s awareness of and attentiveness to political issues, matters of social and racial justice, etc., especially instead of taking effective action.”

Aside from these terms, Merriam-Webster added several more used in today’s lingo, from “sponcon” and “metaverse” to “shrinkflation” and “pumpkin spice.”


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