New word notes: December 2013

This update to the OED includes over 500 new words, phrases, and senses, as well as more than a thousand newly revised entries. Below are notes on a few of the new items, both from the revised ranges and from around the alphabet:

Emoji is a Japanese loanword referring to small digital images or icons that are used in texting and other electronic communications to express ideas and emotions. The similarity of emoji to the similar concept “emoticon” makes the word easy for English speakers to remember, but the resemblance is entirely coincidental: emoji is derived ultimately from the Japanese words e (picture) and moji (letter, character), whereas emoticon is from the English words emotion and icon.

Nappy valley, a pun on happy valley, is a humorous term for an area inhabited by large numbers of families with children. The term originated in New Zealand, but it has now been adopted in the UK as well. It is, however, unlikely to gain a foothold in North America, where nappies are called diapers.

Some of the new legal terminology added in this update is a reminder that the language of the law can be vividly metaphoric. The concept of the fruit of the poisonous tree was introduced in American jurisprudence to refer to evidence which has been obtained illegally and is therefore inadmissible in court. A chilling effect is a discouraging or deterring effect on the exercise of individual rights caused by a fear of legal action. And from the jargon of bankruptcy proceedings comes the cramdown, a court-ordered debt restructuring which creditors are required to accept, despite their objections (it is crammed down their figurative throats).

The succinctly named wino and zino are two subatomic particles which, unlike the celebrated Higgs boson, remain hypothetical. Wino is pronounced /ˈwiːnəʊ/  (not /ˈwʌɪnəʊ/ as in the identically spelled slang term for ‘drunkard’); the -ino comes from the Italian diminutive suffix -ino, after neutrino.  The initial letters are from the W and Z bosons, of which the wino and zino are theoretical superpartners. If we can judge by the vast ranks of particle names, physicists seem to have a flair (as well as a need) for neology.

In the decades since DJ (for disc jockey) was first added to the Supplement to the OED in 1972 the word has come to mean much more than simply a person who introduces and plays recorded music on the radio. Nowadays, DJs are often performers in their own right, transforming recordings through techniques such as scratching, sampling, and mixing. The OED’s entry for DJ has been revised to cover the more recent connotations of the term, and a number of new words and senses relating to the techniques and devices used by DJs have been added, including beat-matching, cross-fader, decks, and new senses of the verb mix.

From the field of zoology comes the wonderfully specific adjective umbrellar. Unsurprisingly, it  is used to describe things which relate to an umbrella, but the umbrella in question is not the familiar device for keeping dry in a rainstorm, but the similarly shaped gelatinous structure of a medusoid cnidarian (jellyfish).

The -ism suffix is very productive in English: the OED includes over 1300 headwords derived from it, including not only widely used words like feminism, materialism, and vegetarianism, but also a plethora of less common ones such as fairyism (characteristics of, belief in, or lore concerning fairies) and platitudinarianism (the quality of being banal).Two new -isms have been added in this update. Credentialism is defined as ‘belief in or reliance on formal qualifications (esp. academic degrees) as the best measure of a person’s ability, intelligence, status, etc.’ Judgmentalism is ‘the quality of being judgemental; overly critical or moralistic behaviour.’

As a historical record of the English lexicon, the OED seeks to cover all words that had currency in past centuries, not only those which are used today.  Therefore, not all ‘new’ words in the OED are actually new; many are extremely old. One such word which enters the dictionary in this update is sillytonian, a contemptuous term for a silly or gullible person which was apparently used only during the early 18th century. The entry is marked with †, the dagger-like symbol used in OED to indicate obsolete words. Sillytonian seems ripe for rediscovery; if it ever gets a new lease of life, then perhaps some future lexicographer will have the opportunity to remove the dagger.

Katherine Connor Martin
Head of US dictionaries