Kicking off our Kickstarter: Let the word hunt begin!


As you may know, Wordnik became a not-for-profit last year, and shortly afterwards, we launched our Adopt a Word program. Today we’re excited to announce we’re expanding our efforts through our Kickstarter campaign, Let’s Add a Million Missing Words to the Dictionary.

You’ve probably noticed that many words, especially neologisms, technical terms, jargon, and slang, are still missing from most standard dictionaries, and that it takes a long time for new words to be added. While Oxford’s online dictionary is updated regularly, the more traditional Oxford English Dictionary is another story. For instance, twerk, which Miley Cyrus popularized in in 2013, dates all the back to 1820 but was only added to the OED this past June.

In fact, a 2010 study published in the journal Science estimated that as much as 52% of the unique words of English are missing from major dictionaries!

Wordnik is different. We think every word should be lookupable. We believe that users of English are the best judges as to whether any particular word belongs in their vocabulary, and that examples of real use by real people are the best evidence to drive those decisions.

With this Kickstarter, we hope to give each and every one of these missing words a good home on the Internet.

How? First, we’ll find the words! We have lists of hundreds of thousands of words that have been looked up on Wordnik that we don’t have good data for. We’ll start with those.

Next, instead of taking a long time to write definitions for these words, we’ll look for definitions that have already been written — not in dictionaries, but by journalists and writers who found a cool word, and wanted to explain it to their readers. We call these “free-range-definition examples” (FRDs, or “Freds”).

Here’s a good example of a FRD, for the word echoborg, from a recent article in the BBC: “Sophia is an ‘echoborg’ – a living, breathing person who has temporarily given themselves over to become a robot’s mouthpiece.”

We already have thousands of these FRDs labeled and can use them as a training set to drive machine learning to find many, many more.

We’ll also update Wordnik so that any time a word is looked up that we’ve never seen before, we’ll kick off a search to find more data about it. We won’t limit ourselves to words that are more frequent than one-in-a-billion, either. If a word exists at all, we’ll show you what we can!

Of course all of this takes time, people-power, and your help. And there are so many ways you can do so!

  • RANDOM BACKER: For one measly greenback, you can be a random word adopter. We’ll add your name to a “random sponsor” list that will display one random sponsor’s name every time someone clicks the “Random Word” link at We’ll also choose one random backer to receive all the other under-$500 rewards!
  • WE ❤️ STICKERS BACKER: At $10, we’ll send you a complete set of Wordnik stickers, plus a sticker conferring membership in the Semicolon Appreciation Society. We’ll also add a “Backer” badge to your Wordnik profile page.
  • ADOPT A WORD:  For $25, we’ll list you as the proud adopter of your word for a year, and send you a full set of Wordnik stickers, plus special word adoption stickers and a downloadable commemorative adoption certificate. We’ll tweet about your adoption to Wordnik’s wordy followers, and we’ll also add an “Adopter” badge to your Wordnik profile page. Words are first-come, first-served, so back early!
  • YOU DESERVE A MEDAL!: Seriously. For helping Wordnik and adopting a word, backers at the $45 level will get an honest-to-goodness backer medal, plus all the Adopt a Word rewards!
  • OOH, POSTER: For $75, we’ll send you an 18×24 poster featuring a selection of the new words added to Wordnik! What will it look like? We don’t know! But we’ll be sending regular updates to backers at this level to get your input on the design! (Extra $15 shipping for international backers) [Limited reward: only 500]
  • NOMINATE A WORD: Want to suggest a specific missing word? At the $100 level, we’ll add your candidate to our research list and update it (data permitting) in the first batch. You’ll also be able to record the audio pronunciation for your word! Of course, you’ll also get all the $25-level adopter perks, and your Wordnik user page will show a “Nominator” badge! [Limited reward: only 1000]
  • WORDSMITH: For $250, not only can you suggest a specific missing word and record the audio pronunciation, we’ll also include the example sentence of your choice and link to its source. (Great for writers!) And we’ll make your word one of our words of the day for 2016, through the Wordnik site, our email list, and Twitter. You’ll also be the adopter of record for your word for TWO years, and get the full set of $25 adopter perks. (Your Wordnik user badge will read “Wordsmith”.) [Limited reward: only 45]
  • WORD-OF-THE-DAY TAKEOVER! At the $1000 level, you choose our words of the day for a whole week. Yep, choose any seven words you want (with the examples of your choice!), and we’ll send them out to thousands of word-hungry recipients! {Limited reward: only 12]
  • FOREVER ADOPTION: For $5000, adopt the word of your choice … FOREVER. We’re only making ten slots available! Obviously you’ll get all the other adoption perks, and your Wordnik user badge will read “Patron”. [Limited reward: only 10]
  • NEOLOGISM FOR YOU: Looking for a word that just doesn’t exist? At the $7500 level, we will create one for you to your specifications! Obviously you’ll get all the other adoption perks, and your Wordnik user badge will read “Neologist”. [Limited reward: only 5]
  • SPONSOR A LETTER: For $10,000, your name will appear on every word beginning with the letter you sponsor! Letters will be first-come, first-served. (The letter S has already been sponsored.) [Limited reward: only 25]

To learn more, check out our Kickstarter page and video starring our fearless founder Erin McKean. We hope you join us in helping to find those million missing words.