Add “keming” to the dictionary

Add “keming” to the dictionary

May 8, 2022
Signatures: 143Next Goal: 200
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Why this petition matters

Started by David Friedman

The earliest recorded use of the word “keming” was in 2008, when it was defined as “the result of improper kerning.” It’s a bit of visual wordplay because kerning is the adjustment of space between letters and if you kern the word kerning improperly, the r and n can merge to form an m. “Kerning” becomes “keming”.

The word has spread widely, and has elevated from an internet joke to a word in common use. It's time Merriam-Webster added it to their dictionary.

Merriam-Webster says that a primary criteria for inclusion in their dictionary is that a word “must have enough citations to show that it is widely used.” Here is some evidence for that:

Just a few years after the word was coined, the use of keming grew to the point where a subreddit dedicated to sharing instances of keming was started. It now has nearly 250,000 members. In 2019, it entered the top 1,000 subreddits.

The use of keming is common and significant enough that Wikipedia’s entry on kerning notes that “the term ‘keming’ is sometimes used informally to refer to poor kerning.”

Even Google has embraced the word, adding a keming easter egg to their search engine. If you search for the word “kerning” you’ll find that the word is too widely spaced out wherever it appears in the results list. But if you search for “keming” you’ll find the word too tightly spaced in the results list.

Keming has also jumped to print.

A book called Graphic Design Referenced includes keming in its section on typesetting. There’s a guide to InDesign that warns people to be careful about keming. The book Mastering Type includes a similar warning.

And most recently, last month the New York Times used “keming” as the theme for their April 14 crossword puzzle. This was actually the second appearance of keming in the New York Times. The first was in 2017.

The word itself is not strictly regarded as a joke anymore. It’s a description of a typographical phenomenon. It can be used humorously, but it doesn’t need to be. It is a useful word that is here to stay.

I’ve listed some of the most significant citations above, but is that enough to show that it meets the criteria of being widely used?

On any day, a search for keming on reddit or Twitter will show new instances of people using it to point out bad kerning. While those are not printed citations, Merriam-Webster has taken the stance that “internet slang is fair game” for the dictionary. And there are new citations for keming on the internet every day.

But Merriam-Webster also says that no matter how many citations a word has, “a word may be rejected for entry into a general dictionary if all of its citations come from a single source or if they are all from highly specialized publications that reflect the jargon of experts within a single field.” So is keming too specialized?

It’s true that the word keming does relate specifically to typography. But it’s not a word only used by experts within that field any more than the word “font” or “serif” or “descender,” all of which appear in the Merriam-Webster dictionary with only typography-related definitions. These are all words that everyday people use and understand because of the typographic tools we use in modern life to write papers and send emails. Keming may not be as widespread, but it’s certainly used by the general public and not just specialists.

Keming is a useful and common word. Please sign this petition and show Merriam-Webster than the time has come to add "keming" to their dictionary.

Why now?

With everything that’s going on in the world, I think we could all use something we can agree on and get behind regardless of political affiliation. Something light enough that it doesn’t take too much mental energy, that you won’t get stressed about, that we can enjoy fighting for together, and that ultimately has little consequence.

This is that thing.

You may say, that’s not really how dictionaries work. You can’t just petition a word into the dictionary. To which I say, lalalala I can’t hear you.

Join the keming revolution. Sign the petition today. And pass it on.

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Signatures: 143Next Goal: 200
Support now