Malignant monsters and the limbo in the HTOED

Malignant monsters and the limbo in the HTOED

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As well as updating the OED each quarter, we expand the associated Historical Thesaurus of the OED (HTOED), a resource which groups OED words and senses into semantic categories and shows changes over time in how we describe things and express concepts. In this article we highlight a few areas of vocabulary which relate to this update.

With the revision of the entries ghost, hag, witch, and zombie in the OED this quarter, now is a good time to creep into the supernatural category in HTOED. For example, within the category supernatural being there are subcategories for evil spirit or demon, ghost or phantom, fairy or elf, mythical creature or object, hybrid creature or monster, and malignant monster, and we can explore any of these to discover words used for these concepts in different periods. In ghost or phantom one of the earliest words is ghost itself, now dated to Old English in this sense; in Middle English came the borrowings phantom, phantasm, and fantasy (all ultimately from or relating to Greek ϕάντασμα ‘appearance, vision, dream, ghost, apparition’); other synonyms etymologically relating to sight or apparition include appearance (1488), vizard (a1591), spectre (1605), apparition (a1616), and show (a1616); while the shadowy form of ghosts is invoked in shadow (a1464), umbra (1601), and shade (a1616). The new entry ghostie (1818) joins a host (or perhaps a phantomry) of other 19th-century terms meaning ‘ghost’, including haunt, spook, and revenant.

If you like your supernatural creatures a little more corporeal, you can scroll down to malignant monster and look at words for ogre, werewolf, vampire, and zombie, among others. In zombie we find that while the word zombie was not used until the 20th century in the senses ‘soulless corpse’ or ‘reanimated corpse’ (before that it meant ‘ghost’); the earliest word for the concept of a reanimated corpse was a Middle English (c1460) sense of carrion.

Zombie is one of the many Caribbean-related entries we’ve revised this update (its earliest sense ‘ghost’ is specific to the Caribbean, as is the related jumbie). Other Caribbean revisions and additions have led to enrichments of the HTOED: we’ve added a new category for varieties of Caribbean English to incorporate the new entries Jamaican English, Trinidadian English, and so on, and expanded the category for natives or inhabitants of specific Caribbean islands with new entries including Baje, Bajan, and Kittian. The dancing category in HTOED has also been expanded with new Caribbean-related entries including dinki mini, limbo as a verb, and a number of verbs denoting erotic dancing, now earliest expressed by wind (1709 in the specifically Caribbean sense ‘Esp. of a woman: to dance with rhythmic gyratory movements of the hips and pelvis’), and also including wine and wuk.

Our expanded coverage of Korean-related vocabulary this update has also led to HTOED enrichments, specifically in the field of kinship terms. Kinship is a fascinating semantic area, and HTOED allows us to explore the way that family relationships have been expressed in English at different times (read more about kinship in the Historical Thesaurus here). As we expand our coverage to include vocabulary from a wider range of English-speaking countries, categorization is also affected, and this is the case with a number of new words meaning ‘elder brother’ and ‘elder sister’. In some varieties of English, including standard British and American, elder siblings are generally just referred to as brothers or sisters, or as elder brothers/sisters, big brothers/sisters, etc. But in other English-speaking regions there are specific terms for elder brothers (e.g. dada in South Asian English, aiya in Sri Lankan English, kuya in Philippine English, and oppa in Korean contexts) and elder sisters (e.g. didi and aapa in South Asian English, ate in Philippine English, and noona and unni in Korean contexts). The addition of the terms from Korean this update prompted us to add the new subcategories elder brother and elder sister for these concepts.

HTOED September 2021 update

In total, HTOED links have been added to over 4,900 senses in this update, with a particular focus on:

  • Entries and senses added to the OED this update: e.g. there are HTOED links at new additions such as antiquaire, bants, brown-nosing, catch-arse, conjure bag, daebak, to drive the green, foul-tempered, ghoulie, japchae, lone ranger, powerbomb, shapeshift, tequila slammer, wagwan, witch-riding, to work like a drover’s dog, woo-hoo, and many more, in addition to the new entries and senses noted above;
  • Senses current in Early Modern English (c. 1550-1700);
  • High-frequency subentries: e.g. there are now HTOED links at subentries such as action plan, alphabetical order, caregiver, human being, last name, married couple, nuclear weapon,and private property.

For more information about HTOED and its uses, see the guide on how to use the Historical Thesaurus and read our blog post for examples of some of the ways you might use HTOED.

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