= 2x(proper noun) + 4x(noun) + 2x(verb)
I’m sure some of you are familiar with the buffalo from Buffalo who other buffalo from Buffalo buffalo, who also happen to buffalo buffalo from Buffalo? They (the linguists) say this word (“buffalo”) can be used to construct the longest one-word English language sentence using correct grammar:
Buffalo buffalo Buffalo bufallo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
For whatever reason, I spent a week obsessed with this example of lexical ambiguity. It occurred to me that I could construct a sentence that was just as long if I could find a homophone/homonym that functioned as a proper noun, a noun, and a verb. Crucially, the plural of the noun must be the same as the singular. I coincidentally was a day away from boarding a plane to Nepal in order to climb to Everest Base Camp when, as I was packing my Solomon hiking boots into my bag, it suddenly occurred to me:
The Sherpa are a group of Himalayan people that live on the borders of Nepal and Tibet. Proper noun, check.
Informally, a sherpa can also refer to a civil servant or diplomat undertaking prepatory political work. Noun whose plural is the same as singular, check.
Finally, can’t one “sherpa” another toward a destination? Verb, check.
In sum, assuming not all diplomatic sherpa are of the Sherpa people, then you would sometimes need to specify that certain diplomatic sherpa were indeed Sherpa people. Furthermore, what if said Sherpa sherpa who sherpa other Sherpa sherpa also were sherpa to Sherpa sherpa? If all that were possible to stipulate without redundancy, then you could say:
Sherpa sherpa Sherpa sherpa sherpa sherpa Sherpa sherpa.
Yes! Right? The diplomatic sherpa who are Sherpa people that sherpa other diplomatic sherpa who are also Sherpa people themselves sherpa other Sherpa sherpa (presumably up a mountain).
My joy at this discovery was promptly deflated when I could not find a dictionary that listed “to sherpa” as a verb. Some didn’t even list the informal definition of Sherpa. This came first as shock, then manifested into outrage.
“The language doesn’t take a vacation, and neither does the dictionary. The words we use are constantly changing in big ways and small, and we’re here to record those changes. Each word has taken its own path in its own time to become part of our language — to be used frequently enough by some in order to be placed in a reference for all. If you’re likely to encounter a word in the wild, whether in the news, a restaurant menu, a tech update, or a Twitter meme, that word belongs in the dictionary.”
People routinely use sherpa as a noun. For instance: the Buddha is my spiritual sherpa. Maybe I’m delusional, but I can’t be the only one who has ever used sherpa as a verb. Just look at these Sherpa sherpa sherpaing people.
So what gives, Merriam-Webster? I always considered you my linguistic sherpa! I thought you could sherpa me to any and all proverbial linguistic answers! I feel let down.
Put some respect on the word.