How many respected dictionaries have an entry for the word ‘phishing’ you wonder? According to one security company, Websense, the word is absent from the most recent version published of the Collins English dictionary. But whose fault is this apparent oversight? Let’s defend the dictionary compilers.

[NB: the publisher of Collins has contacted Techworld to point out that Websense got this wrong: the dictionary has included the term since 2005, and it is there in the 9th edition. No matter.]

It turns out that a number of online sources do offer a definition for the word, including the defining dictionary for US English, Merriam-Webster. It even has distantly-related terms such as ‘phreaking’ in its line-up.

Likewise, dictionary.com has an entry, and according to my searches, the defining dictionary of the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary has had it in its pages since 1996.

Oxford aside, those resisting the term (online at least) are UK-based, such as The Cambridge, and the crossword-puzzler’s favourite, Chambers being good examples. Other words that don’t appear in the latter include ‘malware’.

Are they just not keeping up or do the hold-outs have a point? In fact, different dictionary makers approach new words in specific ways and computing has bad form that marks it down. Quite simply, computing throws up dozens of new terms on a continuous cycle, some of which get regularly used within a defined set of users. For a word to enter the some dictionaries, the word has to make the jump from these people to common parlance, and phishing has not made that leap by any means. Most people would still assume it had something to do with catching supper.

And not content with creating its own slang, computing is prone to modishness, discarding words almost as quickly as they are taken up. The dictionary-makers are right to pass a mistrustful eye over its logorrhoea of find themselves with dictionaries full of last year’s fashionable terms.

The OED, on the other hand, to some extent accepts words on an accumulative basis, which is why the English dictionary compiled by the Oxford is by some margin the world’s largest. Dead words are fine because they still made sense in and of their time.

The interesting fact this simple research throws up, however, is the divergence between online and paper dictionaries, with the online searches tending to include more and the paper ones, less.