New words notes June 2016

By Jonathan Dent, Senior Assistant Editor of the OED

Hello, and holy moly! this quarter our researchers and editors bring you more than 1,000 new words and senses and nearly 2,000 fully revised or partially expanded entries in an update which ranges from the chocolate Afghan biscuit (a New Zealand speciality, topped with cocoa icing and half a walnut) and a triumphant air punch to lexicographically appropriate word cloud and a new entry relating to the Yazidi people of northern Iraq and their culture. Chronologically these new entries and senses cover over 1,200 years of English in use, taking us from the early Old English period with bittem, a mutated form of Modern English ‘bottom’ (one of our newly revised entries), first applied to the keel of a ship around the year 800, to 2010 with the earliest appearance of the acronym MOOC for ‘massive open online course’, an educational course made available to a large number of people via the Internet.

Other very recent items added to this update include glamping (‘glamorous camping’), glamper, and glamp, with evidence dating back to 2005, and listicle, a (usually depreciative) term applied to an article in a newspaper, magazine, or especially on a website, presented wholly or partly in the form of a list, and first recorded in 2007. You might be surprised to learn that female dudettes (in various senses of that complex and often loaded word dude) have been around since 1883, only five years after the first appearance of their male equivalents. You can take a dip, once you’ve pulled on your budgie smugglers, an evocative Australian term used since the 1990s to refer to a pair of close-fitting men’s swimming trunks, so called because of the all-too noticeable appearance of a gentleman’s wedding tackle when wearing them. Alternatively, you could plumb the depths with new entries for the vampire squid, the giant squid and the (considerably larger than fun-size) colossal squid. If a wake-up call at stupid o’clock leaves you dazed, confused, or grumpy, you may want to consider what your chronotype—your natural disposition to sleep or feel most lethargic at a particular time in a 24-hour period—might be.

This update also includes the colloquialisms deffo, first recorded in Australia in 1940, and bovver, a largely British variant of bother, current since 1871, but made more famous earlier this century by comedian Catherine Tate in her teenage character Lauren’s much-repeated catchphrase am I bovvered? Also making their first appearance in OED today are power couple (first recorded in 1983, in a reference to US Republican senators Bob and Elizabeth Dole, who both later made bids for the presidency), and hockey mom (popularized during the vice-presidential candidacy of Alaskan governor Sarah Palin, but dating back to 1956). From the slang of U.S. professional wrestling comes kayfabe (presenting staged events and rivalries as spontaneous, first recorded in 1988); from biology and genetic engineering comes CRISPR—a feature of the DNA of bacteria and other very simple single-celled organisms which can be used as ‘molecular’ scissors in editing genes; while computing and typography gives us CamelCase, a name for the convention of using upper-case letters in the middle of a (compound) word.

Right, as if that weren’t enough: let’s get right down to brass tacks.

Modern Conveniences and Twenty-first Century Blues

It’s nearly ninety years since the completion of the first edition of the OED in 1928, and exactly thirty years since the completion of our four-volume Supplement in 1986. Although every one of our updates includes new and revised material designed to bring the Dictionary’s coverage of contemporary life up to date, today’s update has made a special attempt to ransack the kitchen cupboards, fridge, wardrobe, and bathroom cabinet, to turn out its wallet, and to look back over its diary in order to produce fully researched entries for some of the minutiae and larger cultural and social phenomena of modern life in the industrialized world. From today, you can explore the historical development of sick notes, scouring pads, set menus, cotton buds, ceramic hobs, cold callers, convenience stores, assessed coursework, skill sets, slotted spoons, speed-dial, soy milk, spray tan, travel cards, secret shoppers, snapback baseball caps, wild swimming, Scandi crime thrillers, wedding planners, and Russian oligarchs.

The ever more complex understanding of personal (and especially sexual and gender) identity that developed in the later twentieth century and is still developing today is reflected in entries for agender (designating people who do not identify themselves as belonging to a particular gender) and self-identify, and a new sense at identify itself.

The root causes of climate change are (lexicographically) tackled in a new entry for emissions, in the sense covering greenhouse gases and other pollutants produced by human activity, while attempts to reduce these through the sale of permits and the harnessing of renewable sources of energy are visible in emissions trading, solar farm, and wave farm. Some more personal, bleaker aspects of life in the twenty-first century are recorded in entries for erectile dysfunction, self-harm, diabetic coma, and assisted dying.

Initial Impressions

One inescapable factor of modern life is our increasing reliance on computers and digital communications. A slew of initialisms associated with the social media, emails, texts, and other electronic means of communication are placed in their historical context for the first time in this update. Perhaps surprisingly, many of these abbreviations for common (and not so common) phrases predate the World Wide Web, with the Usenet newsgroup communities of the late 1980s and early 1990s providing most of our earliest citations. Among other initialisms are a range of different ways to indicate that you’re about to be AFK (‘away from the keyboard’, first recorded in 1990) but hope to return shortly, including BRB ‘be right back’, TTYL ‘talk to you later’, ltr or l8r ‘later’ (all from 1988), SYS (‘see you soon’, 1993), and the more open-ended GTG (‘got to go’, 1994). There are also various ways to indicate either that you’re ‘just kidding’ (JK, 1990) or that someone else has (deliberately or unwittingly) managed to get you ROFL (‘rolling on the floor laughing’, 1989), including LMAO (‘laughing my ass off’, 1990) and the more emphatic (and profane) LMFAO (1993).

A non-committal example of the same kind of abbreviation has been around much longer: IDK (‘I don’t know’) is first recorded from 1931, when a doctor wrote it on a patient’s certificate of sickness or sick note (a phrase also making its first appearance in OED today, and used first in 1836), but it too became popular as an online abbreviation from at least 1990, when it made its first appearance in a Usenet discussion. The indifferent or unenthusiastic IDC (‘I don’t care’) made its first appearance in 1989, while a British way of indicating unwillingness to make an effort, CBA (‘can’t be arsed’) dates from 1998. A more critical but equally unenthusiastic attitude is on show in tl;dr (‘too long; didn’t read’), a more recent addition, arriving on the scene in 2002, when it formed the entirety of a crushing response to another Usenet user’s thoughts on the computer game Metroid Prime. Since then, it’s also been widely used to introduce short, pithy summaries of longer pieces of text, either on its own or in ‘tl;dr version’.

A small but distinct subset of initialisms first recorded from Usenet has been popularized in the current century by parenting websites and forums such as Mumsnet. Referring to various members of one’s immediate family, these initialisms combine an (often ironic, in context) affectionate adjective with the name of a relative: DH (‘dear/darling husband’ 1993), DW (‘dear/darling wife’ 1994), DD, and DS (‘dear/darling son or daughter’, both from 1996). LO ‘little one’, another, gender-neutral way to refer to a child, seems to be a later development, and is first recorded in 2004.

If you’re not a fan of textspeak and this persistent drive to reduce character-count and the risk of repetitive strain injury from typing or tapping, you might prefer leetspeak (more properly perhaps 13375pe4k, also abbreviated leet or 1337). This more expansive digital argot (which uses a non-standard spelling system and the substitution of numbers or special characters for individual letters) was popularized by computer programmers and hackers who regarded one another and their skills as ‘elite’ or ‘[e]leet’, perhaps in order to avoid moderation of exchanges on electronic forums such as Usenet.

Still unimpressed by the relentless progress of modern technology and its deleterious effect on the English language? Great news! it’s now quicker and easier to express your displeasure and disbelief with the initialisms SMH (‘shaking my head’, from 1994), and the saltier and more exasperated FFS (1991). You don’t see that as good news? Shall I just get my coat . . . ?

Today’s Set Menu

Feeling peckish? Teesside delicacy parmo (a variant on veal parmigiano, in which a breaded and deep-fried fillet of chicken or pork is topped with béchamel sauce and cheese before being finished off under the grill) makes its OED debut today. Although local Middlesbrough traditions date the creation of this dish to the 1950s or 1960s, neither our own research nor a public appeal has found written evidence for parmo or parmesan (in this sense) before 2003.

Anyone in the mood for something a little more exotic and international in flavour, might care to sample the mofongo (a Puerto Rican timbale of fried plantains, garlic, and bacon), or go for a curry and choose an oniony dopiaza, first served up in English to the bureaucrats of the British Raj in the mid nineteenth century. More recent Asian influences on western cuisine are reflected in the inclusion of several words from Japanese, including  maitake, a name for a popular edible mushroom, known elsewhere as hen-of-the-woods; shishito, a type of chilli pepper; matcha, powdered green tea and the hot drink made from it; and sencha, another form of green tea.

If you prefer something stronger than green tea, you can opt for a cooling and reassuringly artisanal craft beer, or hit the harder stuff with an ever growing range of craft gins, or sample Korea’s favourite alcoholic drink, soju. For members of the cocktail set, mixed drinks are available, and while a dirty martini is on offer at the OED bar for the first time today, our research shows that this olive brine- or juice-stained variation on the classic gin or vodka martini has been available since at least 1991, when it was being served at a restaurant in Santa Fe, California.

Assuming you still have room for dessert, you might like to choose between fro-yo, ‘frozen yoghurt’ (great for anyone looking for a calorie controlled option, as health- or weight-conscious people have been since 1933), or gianduja, a Piedmontese treat made from chocolate and ground hazelnuts, named after a stock character in commedia dell’arte, and which as a spread or filling was the inspiration for Nutella.

Zoinks! What is it, Scoob?

If after all that, you’re still peckish in the night, you can always sneak downstairs to the fridge for a Scooby Snack, although you may want to make it clear just what kind of Scooby Snack you’re having. In Scooby Doo’s cartoon and movie adventures this term was usually applied to the dog treats with which the cowardly but adorable Great Dane was bribed to enter the ghost train/spooky mansion/deserted goldmine. In popular use it’s also been extended to cover the massive multi-layered submarine sandwiches enjoyed by Shaggy and Scooby in less fraught moments. These days though, and thanks to the influence of the American band Fun Lovin’ Criminals and their most famous hit, a ‘Scooby Snack’ is just as likely to be a name for any of various (illegal) drugs. Drug culture and music also collide elsewhere this month, in a new entry for narcocorrido, a narrative song or ballad in a traditional Mexican style (the corrido), usually in octosyllabic lines, recounting the exploits of drug traffickers.

Other, less criminally suspect musical additions to OED this month include folktronica, a blend of folk and electronic music; Korean K-pop; a particularly harsh and aggressive variation on house music originating in Rotterdam known as gabba; and krump, used in a hip-hop context as an adjective meaning ‘highly energized or excited, especially when dancing’, and as a verb and noun (also as krumping) to refer to a style of dancing to hip-hop music that is characterized by rapid, exaggerated movements of the arms and legs.

As Easy As . . .

New phrases added in this update reveal that people have been likening the exploitation of an easy opportunity to taking (or stealing) candy from a baby since 1900, when betting on William McKinley taking a second term as U.S. President was likened to this particularly unscrupulous and unkind form of petty larceny, while others disposed make the most of easy targets have been (notionally) shooting fish in a barrel since 1903. More difficult (and indeed, pointless) are attempts at the improvement or beautification of the fundamentally unappealing, unpleasant, or shoddy, likened to an attempt either to polish a turd (first recorded in 1976) or to put lipstick on a pig (from 1985).

Today’s update supplies vital new information to the organized crime squad on a case in which Mafia involvement has long been suspected. The phrase to sleep with the fishes is usually associated with Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 film of Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather; in the film, a dead fish wrapped in a gangster’s bulletproof vest is interpreted as ‘an old Sicilian message’ to the effect that the vest’s owner, Luca Brasi, ‘sleeps with the fishes’. The phrase has become irrevocably associated with the gangland killing, but its origins lie somewhere other than either Sicily or Hollywood, and today’s update traces it back at least as far as the nineteenth century, when it is recorded in a threat made in the nineteenth century by disgruntled German villagers against an English angler who was depleting the stocks of their trout streams. Gangsters shouldn’t despair, however, as they can claw back some (very dubious, if less heinous) lexical credit at a new entry for gank, a slang verb meaning to rob or dupe a person, or to steal something—recorded first in 1987 in the lyrics of a song by hip-hop group N.W.A., where it may or may not represent a shortening of ‘ganksta’.

Other phrases making their first appearance in OED today are sister from another mister (joining ‘brother from another mother’, added in the last update), a term for a very close female friend first recorded in 1998; starter for ten, an introductory question or any opportunity or opening, borrowed from University Challenge (the long-running British version of defunct US quiz show College Bowl), where the words your starter for ten have been used to open each round of questions since the programme’s debut in the 1960s; and spot the difference, a type of visual puzzle also first recorded under this name in the 1960s, now frequently used ironically in order to suggest that two allegedly different people or things are, for all practical purposes, actually interchangeable.


We’ll be back in three months, when we’ll explode on the scene with another raft of fully revised and updated OED entries from across the alphabet, and more new words (including many with a pronounced wow factor) from the ever expanding global vocabulary of English. Until then, mahalo (‘thanks’, Hawaiian style) for reading.