New words June 2011

Presenting information on the net

Although the swathe of alphabet in OED Online from M to the end of R is already revised and updated, along with other chunks relating to important or much-consulted entries, one of the big benefits of online publication, as opposed to print, is the ability it gives us to insert new material in this sequence without the need for the slow and costly process of producing reprints, new editions, or supplements. We regularly take advantage of this, as illustrated by one of the entries in the most recent quarterly update, network neutrality. This concept has been the subject of much debate in recent years, reflecting something axiomatic for many Internet users; that all data on the net should be treated equally by Internet service providers, without favouring particular formats, products, or web sites by charging extra fees, prioritizing or blocking data of certain types, and so on.

The use of the phrase with this specific Internet meaning only really dates from the 2000s (which is reflected in the relatively recent appearance of net neutrality, also present in this quarterly release), although it has existed in a computing context since 1988 with a more general sense, “the fact or quality of carrying or handling data regardless of the network, platform, etc., on which it is available”, and was often used as a selling point for new products which could handle data originating from different operating systems.

Predating even this (1971), our research uncovered a sense, now somewhat moribund owing to the dominance of the computing uses of the phrase, relating to political neutrality on television networks.

Further adventures in tinfoil

Another new addition reflects a different aspect of the dynamism afforded us by online publication; having published an entry for tinfoil hat in March, noting in particular such headwear’s  alleged property of protecting the wearer from mind control or surveillance, a contributor alerted us to a use of tinfoil cap in this same context, dating from three years earlier. Consequently we are able to present this information in the very next update, in the form of a new compound at TINFOIL n., which also enlightens us as to the history of the use of tinfoil for lids or caps for bottles, jars, and suchlike. At the same time we have slightly revised the etymology of tinfoil hat to show the reader this earlier parallel.

Complicated as

Revision of an entry of intimidatingly long history and complicated grammatical function like the adverb and conjunction as shows us that such vital cogs of English vocabulary (so central to our speech and writing that we rarely notice we are using them) are still used in new ways. This release includes a new sense 3b of the conjunction, found in informal speech, in which the standard of comparison in familiar phrases like “easy as ABC” (or pie, or falling off a log, etc.) or “sweet as pie” is dropped, leaving as to function alone as an intensifier, as in our last quotation, from the scripts for Peter Kay’s UK TV comedy series Phoenix Nights: “No filth. Simple as.” Alongside this, the Phrases section for the entry now includes the British colloquialism as you do, indicating with faux-nonchalance that something extraordinary has been described or done: “We have revised the OED entry for the word as. As you do.”

Also appearing

Other words and meanings among the 1,800 new to the OED in this release include:

auto-complete n.  A software feature that uses text already entered in a given field to predict or generate the characters the user is likely to enter next; familiar to anyone who has used predictive text or search boxes on websites. [First recorded in 1992]

babe n. Used to describe an attractive man [1973] and, in the plural,  as a familiar or affectionate form of address for a person of either sex [1918].

brain candy n. Broadly appealing, undemanding entertainment which is not intellectually stimulating. OED already has eye-candy and ear candy. [1968]

cryonaut n. A person who is cryogenically preserved with a view to being revived in the distant future. [1968]

environmentally unfriendly adj. designed, produced, or operating in a way that causes, or does not minimize, harm to the natural environment; opposed to environmentally friendly. [1988]

gender reassignment n. The process of a person adopting the physical characteristics of the opposite sex by means of medical procedures such as surgery or hormone treatment. [1969]

green fuel n. (a type of) fuel, esp. biofuel, which is regarded as less harmful to the environment than conventional fuels. [1979]

to laugh it up at laugh v. Used in imperative (with ironic or sarcastic force) to suggest an impending reversal of fortune: ‘laugh while you can.’ [1971]

urb n. An urban area, a city. Frequently contrasted with suburb. [1952]

use it or lose it at use v. Used as an admonition; dates back, perhaps surprisingly, as far as 1887.