December 2018 Update: to drain the swamp, with one’s bum in the butter

December 2018 Update: to drain the swamp, with one’s bum in the butter

The latest update of the OED adds more than 600 new words, senses, and phrases, including the selection of items described in greater detail below. The full list of entries can be found here.

The earliest known appearance of the phrase to drain the swamp, meaning ‘to rid an institution or society of an entrenched and harmful influence, esp. a source or agent of corruption’, dates from 1899. It appears in the June issue of the American literary and political periodical magazine The Arena, in an article discussing the eradication of ‘bossism’ in Toledo, Ohio – a city itself built on swampland. Originally and often used as part of an extended metaphor relating to removing the source of a disease, infestation, or anything undesirable, the phrase was popularized by Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s with reference to the dismantling of big government. However, he also used the more extended phrase when you’re up to your armpits in alligators, it’s sometimes hard to remember that you’re here to drain the swamp, meaning ‘urgent problems have a tendency to divert attention from the pursuit of more important strategic goals’.

Swamp image

Burkini (a proprietary name for a type of swimsuit for women which covers most of the body and which is intended to respect Islamic traditions of modesty in dress) is a blend of burka and bikini. Such a word formation follows a common pattern, as bikini has been blended with many other words to describe different types of swimwear: minikini (1967), monokini (1964), tankini (1985), trikini (1967), and most recently mankini (a brief one-piece bathing garment for men, with a T-back).

The suffix –ade has been productive in forming names of fruit drinks since the 17th century, such as orangeade in 1672. However, the addition of the term haterade, ‘a notional drink that engenders or embodies feelings of hatred, negativity or resentment’, illustrates a more complex and unusual formation. It was first used in 1993 in the American TV programme Roundhouse as the name of a fictional product in a humorous parody of a television advertisement. Later, it was used simply to mean ‘excessive or unwarranted hatred, resentment, or criticism’. The term is formed from a blend of hater and the name of the proprietary sports drink, Gatorade (which is named after the Gators, the name of the sports teams at the University of Florida, itself a shortening of alligators).

In 1808 William Blake used the phrase dark satanic mills in the preface of his poem, Milton, to describe the mills and factories of the industrial revolution that were altering the British landscape. The OED, as part of the revision of satan and related words, charts its (and the shortened form, satanic mills) continued use up to the present day to describe such places ‘associated with harsh working conditions and regarded as representing inhuman or exploitative industrialization’. Words and phrases associated with canonical writers often get fixed in common speech (an occurrence illustrated throughout the OED, especially with regard to Shakespeare), and biblical phrases can behave in similar ways. Though with the addition of get behind me, Satan (a phrase ‘used to reject temptation or an offer of something attractive but harmful, often by someone who is open to persuasion’), it is interesting to note its evolution from its first general use in 1658 as a direct allusion to the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:23 to the now more frequent humorous use, as illustrated by the 2015 quotation from the Huddersfield Daily Examiner: ‘I..denied even the contemplation of fried food and told chips to get behind me, Satan.’

The earliest citation in the OED from a Bob Dylan lyric is from his 1962 song Oxford Town (that’s Oxford, Mississippi); an illustrative quotation of town used in combination with a place name. The definition notes that such usage is ‘common in Middle English, and later in ballads and folk songs’. The OED goes on to cite Bob Dylan over thirty times across the alphabet. Now, Dylanesque has been added to this update, defined as ‘resembling or reminiscent of Bob Dylan or his work, esp. his songs or records, which are characterized by poetic, often enigmatic, lyrics, a distinctive, abrasive vocal delivery, and music rooted in traditional American styles, such as folk, blues, and country; (sometimes) spec. typical or redolent of the folk music of his early records, which combined lyrics of social protest with acoustic guitar and harmonica playing’. Dylanesque is first attested in 1965, a year after our first citation for Beatlesque.

Bob Dylan image

Three senses have been defined for the new term, chopsy, adj. (derived from chop n.2 in plural form, referring to the jaws). The first sense (1965) is rare and means ‘having prominent, fleshy jowls; jowly’ which is soon followed by a chiefly Welsh English usage (1974) denoting someone who is ‘inclined to talk a lot, especially in a rude, insolent, or belligerent way’. And the last sense (1981) is from the musical world referring to (especially jazz) music or musical performers ‘displaying or characterized by technical virtuosity’, which comes from chops (1966) meaning ‘a jazz musician’s skills’ (itself derived from an earlier sense meaning ‘the power of a trumpeter’s embouchure’).

There is another link to jazz music in this update which can be found at satchel-mouth: the earliest use (1906) is from America and refers to various fishes with relatively large mouths, but the second sense (1933) is a slang term for a person having a large mouth and is best known as the nickname of the American jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong, which was usually shortened to Satchmo or Satch.

The phrase with one’s bum in the butter is chiefly used in South Africa, Britain, and Australia and refers to being in a very fortunate or advantageous situation or position. The phrase is apparently based on an Afrikaans saying, though there is also earlier 18th century Dutch evidence. The precise origin of the phrase is uncertain, but it is probably alluding to a soft landing after falling.

catch-fart, meaning ‘a foot servant or page’, is a historical slang word first attested in 1688 which alludes to the closeness with which a servant was supposed to follow his master or mistress.

Economics and economic change have always been prolific generators of new words. New economy first appears in 1981 and is defined as ‘the economy as it relates to post-industrial society, based largely on advanced (esp. digital) technology and the service sector’. In 1944 John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern published their highly influential book, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, which introduced the idea of imperfect information and perfect information, both referring to the level of up-to-date knowledge some participants in a market have of products and prices. And with the revision of down in this quarter’s update, it was inevitable that there would be new words and senses relating to financial change and alterations in the economic cycle (1832), such as down cycle, downscaling, downsize, and downsizer.

All of which leads us to a golden goodbye, ‘a substantial sum of money offered to an employee as compensation for dismissal or compulsory redundancy, or as an inducement to take early retirement’. This is first attested in 1960, just after golden handshake (1959) and then followed by golden hello (1983), completing that set of financial inducements to leave, stay at, or start a job.

The opinions and other information contained in the OED blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.

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