Ah, beach-spreading — touched a nerve, eh?
Officially birthed in Sea Isle City, now banned in Belmar, a phrase coined by, well, us, beach-spreading — the phenomenon in which beachgoers employ tents, canopies, and other devices to take up way more space than they need — is now an official new-word candidate for the Merriam-Webster dictionary, says associate editor and definer Emily Brewster.
It joins manspreading, the word used to describe the phenomenon on the subway in which people, mostly men, take up more than one seat and the inspiration for beach-spreading, as a candidate for official inclusion in the dictionary.
"It's got as good a chance as any other word," Brewster said. "Manspreading has been doing very well. It's really catching on. I think that beach-spreading has a tougher row to hoe, as they say. It's not as commonly used. You have to be at a beach. It has to be at a crowded beach. It's a seasonal phenomenon."
It could be years before the word would be officially added to the dictionary, if ever, Brewster said. The process is rigorous. Even manspreading is still in the early stages of monitoring, Brewster said. Several times a year, Merriam-Webster lexicographers review the words in the spreadsheet for updates to the dictionary, and monitor usage, ubiquity, and other signs that the new words have staying power.
Note to lexicographers: Look, the word, in its Spanish form (El 'beach-spreading') has even spread globally:
The original beach-spreading story, posted on Philly.com July 20 as part of the Shore series that also ran in the Inquirer and Daily News, was widely read, shared, argued about, and commented on almost instantaneously (though some took offense at the allusion to manspreading, a term that itself is polarizing and offensive to some and seen as unfairly critical of men). But it evidently captured a practice on the beaches of New Jersey and elsewhere that had been steadily encroaching (literally) on people's consciousnesses in recent years.
Even CBS This Morning came calling.
As a dictionary candidate, beach-spreading was flagged by author and journalist Stefan Fatsis, a word connoisseur and author of Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players.
Fatsis added the word, its origins, and its subsequent usage to Merriam-Webster's official "new-words spreadsheet" that serves, basically, as a runway for thousands of possible additions to the dictionary.
But not all words are destined for take-off.
"It could take years to make the dictionary," messaged Fatsis, who is writing a book on Merriam-Webster and the future of the dictionary. (He is essentially "embedded" with the M-W definers for his book.) "Usage has to, um … spread!"
In the meantime, towns are grappling with what to do about the practice itself.
Belmar voted Tuesday night on an official ban that would include the possibility of beach-spreading penalties for tents more than three feet square (tiny, by Jersey maximalist standards). And even Sea Isle City has begun to discuss whether legislative action was merited, according to a report that refers to the practice, inexactly, as "tent-spreading."
Brewster says the legal implications could help beach-spreading reach its full potential as a word in the dictionary.