New Words September 2011

Dark chocolate
Americans’ fondness for the bean of the cacao tree is highlighted by new entries for some traditional U.S. desserts in which the word black denotes the use of chocolate as a featured ingredient. These include black bottom, which is used to describe pies and other desserts with a bottom layer of chocolate, black and white, which is the name both of a type of cookie frosted with chocolate and vanilla icing and of various ice cream fountain creations made with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup, and blackout cake, a very rich chocolate cake with chocolate icing and filling.

More than the sum of their parts
Britcom n., new in this update, has a forked etymology. When used to mean a British comedy generally, the -com is a direct shortening of comedy, as in romcom. However, in more recent use Britcom usually refers specifically to a British situation comedy, in which case the formation is more readily understood as a blend of British and sitcom.

A slightly different instance of the elements of a single compound being understood in two different ways is securocrat n. In this case, the etymology for both senses is from secure adj. plus the -ocrat combining form, with allusion to bureaucrat. However, in the earliest (American) sense, it refers to a government functionary who is overly concerned with security, whereas in the second (South African) sense, it denotes a member of the state security apparatus who has become a bureaucrat or wields political influence.

The impact of current events
One sombre aspect of the lexical development of English in recent years has been the higher profile and increasing prevalence of compounds involving the word terror n. in the sense “organized repression or extreme intimidation; terrorism”. Several new compounds relating to that sense have now been added, including terror alert, terror attack, terror campaign, terror plot, terror suspect, and terror threat. As often proves to be the case in historical lexicography, the seeming novelty of these compounds belies a surprisingly long history: they are all several decades old, with terror plot attested as early as 1905.

Made in Japan
The popularity of Japanese popular culture in the English-speaking world has prompted the addition of the words shonen and shojo, referring to forms of manga (comics) and anime (animation) aimed at boys and girls, respectively. These join existing OED entries for the naughty hentai genre, and for related terms like cosplay and otaku.

Defining footwear
In the U.S. Navy, the significance of black shoes and brown shoes goes well beyond determining the appropriate colour of one’s socks. These terms refer by metonymy to surface naval officers and aviators, respectively, and are frequently used attributively, as in the phrases black-shoe navy and brown-shoe navy (denoting these branches of the service). The reference is to the brown shoes formerly worn by aviators, in distinction to the black ones worn by other officers.

A new sense of security
Few areas of modern life are unchanged by the Internet age, and the English lexicon is no exception. OED now recognizes an additional nuance of security n., to encompass, with respect to computers and encryption, “the state of being protected from unauthorized access; freedom from the risk of being intercepted, decoded, tapped, etc.” Concern for computer security has in turn spawned new senses of words like sign v., where phrasal usages like sign in, sign out, sign on and sign off now also describe the action of logging in to a computer system or service with a personal username and password.

Also appearing

Other words and meanings among the 1,500 which are new to the OED in this release include:

ambo n. An ambulance; (also, in Australia) a member of an ambulance crew [first recorded in 1974].

biochar n. Charcoal produced from plant matter and typically buried underground in order to remove from the atmosphere carbon dioxide (fixed during photosynthesis) that would otherwise contribute to the greenhouse effect [1995].

curate v. In extended use: to select the performers or performances to be included in (a festival, album, programme, etc.); to select, organize, and present (content), as on a website [1982].

frammis n. Originally used as a generic surname or company name, esp. in comic strips; (later) nonsense, jargon, commotion confusion; a thingy or gizmo [1940].

kewl adj. Representing an affected or exaggerated pronunciation of cool adj., esp. in the language of electronic communications [1990].

songline n. A route through the landscape which is believed to have been travelled by Australian Aboriginal ancestors during the Dreamtime, and recorded in the songs of the Aborigines living along this route [1966].

stitch-up n. A frame-up; a conspiracy or plot, esp. to incriminate a person on false evidence [1980].

zaatar n. A Middle-Eastern spice mixture [1917].

Katherine Connor Martin, Oxford English Dictionary