New words notes December 2015

By Jonathan Dent, Senior Assistant Editor of the OED

‘More new words? No way.’ ’Yes way!’

It’s December, and time for another quarterly update to the Oxford English Dictionary. Fully revised and expanded entries for major items like control, fire, lock, truth, and way and from elsewhere across the alphabet bring with them around 1,000 new entries, compounds, phrases, and senses. New words added in this quarter’s update stretch from the word Antonite (‘A monk of the Hospital Brothers of St Anthony’), dating from the late seventeenth century, to yes way! (used as a humorous response to the interjection no way!), recorded first in an early draft of the script for the film Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Way!—a briefer and less emphatic response to no way!—also makes its first appearance in the OED today.

Last quarter, words to do with water made up a significant proportion of the new and revised entries added to the third edition of the OED. In today’s release, any lingering chill engendered by those watery words should be dispelled by the heat generated by the revision and expansion of fire and related words. While these entries shed light on all aspects of humankind’s complex relationship with fire, new entries for fire safety, fire prevention, and numerous new compounds and senses relate to our attempts to prevent unwanted fires and to bring them under control. Among other things revealed by this new material is the fact that the first fire extinguisher recorded in English (in 1765) was not a thing, but a person skilled or experienced at putting out fires—this is in contrast to the first recorded fireman, one Richard, from Durham, who in 1377 was paid to keep a fire burning.

Also in this update, chocoholics can sate their curiosity (if not their craving for cocoa and calories) by discovering the linguistic histories of chocolate bunnies, buttons, drops, eggs, fingers, and kisses, chocolate milk, ice cream, and liqueur, and choc chip cookies. Fans of the OED‘s most famous alumnus can trace the path of waybread (a translation of the Elvish lembas meaning ‘a kind of sustaining food made for eating before or during a long journey’) from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to the work of other fantasy novelists such as Ursula le Guin, all the way to its eventual use as a free translation of Latin viaticum (literally ‘something for the journey’)—the Christian Eucharist administered to someone who is dying or is in danger of death. New words from the technological realm include phablet, a mobile smartphone with ambitions to be a tablet computer (first recorded in 2010), and useful electronic security measures including firewalling and lock-screen.

Banking on Mom and Dad

Newly published items among the bank words reveal that first recorded banking crisis to go under that name occurred in 1825; that people have been asking one another for (or often, more recently, fraudulently obtaining one another’s) bank details since 1968; that the phrase the banking industry is first recorded in a plea for deregulation as far back as 1852, while the banking sector emerged in only the years after the Wall Street Crash, and is recorded first in 1933. When you suffer your own mini banking crisis, and your bank manager is not in a listening mood, though, it might be wise to seek help closer to home…

The Bank of Mom and Dad (or of Mum and Dad outside the United States), a phrase with special resonance for cash-strapped millennials, turns out to have been coined by their own Generation Xer parents. The phrase makes its first recorded appearance as a quotation from an undergraduate of Syracuse University in a 1984 Washington Post report on the bacchanalia that was Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale that year. Students, says the report, drank ‘endlessly flowing beer’, ‘downed chocolate sundaes for breakfast’, and (perhaps unsurprisingly) ‘sought cash as eagerly as caresses’, sending appeals back home to the one institution with a parental obligation to lend them its financial assistance.

Glamorous grannies

Those of us lucky enough to grow up with them tend to learn from an early age that, obliging as parents are, grandparents are often a softer touch. Revision of the adjective grand has expanded OED‘s catalogue of terms for grandparents and grandchildren, with gram, grammy, gramps, grampy, grams, grandbairn, grandboy, grandgirl, grandmom, and grandmum all making their first appearance today. New words for ‘grandmother’ are particularly well represented in these additions, meaning that OED now contains at least 18 words for ‘the mother of one’s father or mother’, once these new words are added to the 13 already listed as synonyms of grandmother in the Dictionary’s Historical Thesaurus (this source also shows that, with these additions, there are 21 English words for grandfather). The Old English Eldmother is our earliest recorded word for this typically most indulgent of relatives, while grandmother itself has (like grandfather) been in use since the early fifteenth century, emerging shortly after the now obsolete Scots synonym good-dame, and just before the slightly more familiar (if only from Shakespeare and Milton) but equally obsolete beldam.

Revision of the existing entry for granny has produced new sub-entries for the compounds granny tax (a tax measure which adversely affects older people), granny gear (the lowest gear on a vehicle, especially a bicycle), and granny chic (a term—often used ironically—for fashion choices traditionally associated with the dress or appearance of a grandmother).  Even granny chic isn’t glamorous enough for some grannies, though, and the OED‘s newest grandparent, my New Words colleague Helen, has chosen to be a ‘glam-ma’ instead.

While ‘glam-ma’ hasn’t managed to make it into the OED—yet—this quarter’s update contains another notable example of people adapting the English language to suit their needs, and to ensure that the way in which they are addressed by others corresponds to their own sense of who they are.

 Identity check: Mx and cis

The gender-neutral title Mx can be used before a person’s surname in the same way as Mr, Mrs, Miss, or Ms. The earliest advocates and users of the term saw this new title as one which could sidestep the perceived sexism of traditional gendered, titles and which could be equally and neutrally applied to both men and women, in the same way that Ms (first suggested in 1901, and increasingly popular since the 1960s) had been used to avoid making a distinction between married and unmarried women. The earliest example of use is taken from an article of the American Single Parent magazine in 1977, and it reflects this concern:

‘Maybe both sexes should be called Mx. That would solve the gender problem entirely.’ ‘Are you a women’s libber or something?’ said the horrified man.

Since 2000, though, Mx has become particularly associated with those whose gender identity is non-binary, including intersexual or transgender people, and in the last half decade it has increasingly been adopted by companies such as banks, government agencies, universities, and other organizations in Britain as a title by which anyone dealing with them who does not identify with established honorifics can choose to be addressed.

Another sign of our increasingly complex understanding of personal identity in the twenty-first century is the inclusion of a cluster of words beginning with the prefix cis–: cis, cisgender, cisgendered, and cissexual. Derived from the Latin preposition cis, meaning ‘on this side of’, until relatively recently this prefix was chiefly visible in English in the adjectives cisalpine and cismontane (‘on this side of the Alps/mountains’), and in the names of certain chemicals displaying a particular type of molecular symmetry. Since 1994 however, when the word cisgendered was used by an American academic appealing for help with a study of transgender issues, cis– has taken on a new lease of life in a group of words which provide a direct equivalent to identity terms such as transgender and transsexual when referring to people who are not trans, i.e., those whose sense of their own personal identity corresponds to their birth sex.

Keeping it local

‘Seasonal food, locally sourced’ is a mantra for many twenty-first century chefs and restaurants, in contrast to the relentless pursuit of novelty and exotic delicacies from far-flung locations that drove food fashions in a past less worried by the economic and environmental impact of such globalized gourmandizing. While many of us see reducing the ‘food miles’ each foodstuff clocks up between field and plate as an ideal, for many people convenience, cost, and established tastes inform more of our decisions about what to eat than does the question ‘is it local’? But in 2005, a group of women in San Francisco set themselves the challenge of eating nothing produced outside a strict 100 mile radius of the Californian city. Their endeavours to ‘keep it local’ came to the attention of the San Francisco Chronicle, and locavores, the name coined for the group by founding member Jessica Prentice, soon became identified with the local food movement worldwide. Locavore was selected as an Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year in 2007, and makes its first appearance in OED today.

Had enough? No? Well, we’ll be back in March with another industrial-scale helping of neologisms and revised material. Is that the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, though? Of course it is: trust me, I’m a lexicographer.