Crunk Really Ain't Dead: Word Makes It Into Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Southern rap style joins 'speed dating,' 'telenovela,' 'ginormous' in dictionary's new edition.

For the better part of two years now, Lil Jon has spent every waking moment reminding us, via shouted missives and the ginormous hunk of platinum and diamonds around his neck, that "Crunk Ain't Dead." Now, thanks to the wordsmiths at Merriam-Webster, his contention has been validated. Crunk, it seems, is not dead.

In fact, it'll pretty much live on forever.

That's because "crunk" is one of roughly 100 new additions to "Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary," joining words like "speed dating," "telenovela" and, yes, "ginormous" in linguistic immortality.

Officially defined as "a style of Southern rap music featuring repetitive chants and rapid dance rhythms," crunk — and all the new additions to the dictionary (or neologisms, as etymologists call them) — was selected from a list of roughly 17 million words and phrases that have entered the public lexicon in recent years, through a process that's both incredibly complicated and, well, pretty basic.

"There's only one rule for a new word getting in: If it's likely to be found in printed reading matter — magazines, newspapers, novels — it's likely to get in," Peter Sokolowski, an associate editor for Merriam-Webster, told MTV News. "Our entire staff reads and marks everything we can get our hands on: Vibe magazine, magazines on pregnancy and sailing, math journals, physics journals, soup-can labels, menus. Basically, when a word gains a critical mass of citations, we'll include it.

"We try to include words that aren't just trends," he continued. "We're looking for words that will be referred to in the future and people won't need any explanation to know what it means. If the editor of a newspaper can publish a word and he or she expects readers to know what it means, we'll include it."

Sokolowski said that in the case of a word like crunk, they had followed its use from the pages of hip-hop publications to magazines like Sports Illustrated and finally into Time and The New York Times. And yes, he's aware that including crunk in the dictionary suggests that it's no longer a "cool" word (this actually happened sometime around 2002), but that's just another part of the process: When your parents know what a word means, it's probably about time to include it in the dictionary.

"It has to be said that when a word makes it into the dictionary, it's already past being cool. It's no longer cutting-edge," he laughed. "I mean, a crunk song won an Oscar a few years back [Three 6 Mafia's "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from "Hustle & Flow," which took home the award for Best Original Song in 2005], so it's already become part of the establishment."

While even your Aunt Bernadette might be aware of what Lil Jon means when he's screaming about "getting crunk," it's still not clear where the word came from. Even the folks at Merriam-Webster aren't 100 percent sure, so while their official etymology (in regular speak: origin) mentions both Jon and Outkast, Sokolowski is quick to point out that, as is often the case, they'll probably never know for sure where the word came from.

"The etymology is important, and the fact is, sometimes we don't know. We're not sure about crunk. It either comes from this blend of the words 'crazy' and 'drunk,' or it's an alteration of 'cranked up,' meaning high-energy," he explained. "People are being playful with their language. In the South, people [say], 'Let's get crunk,' or, 'Let me crunk this engine.' "

"Crunk" is just the latest in a string of hip-hop-related slang to be recognized by Merriam-Webster ("bling bling" was added last year — see " 'Bling Bling' Added To Oxford English Dictionary"), and it's a trend that doesn't show any sign of stopping. Sokolowski said that "hyphy" is already on their watch list, with plenty other words on the horizon.

"There are a ton of them out there right now, and as long as the word becomes part of the culture in the broader sense, it'll be in our dictionary," he said. "Honestly, the search for new words and phrases becomes a compulsion. You can't read anything without a pen in your hand."