March 2011 update: new words notes

March 2011 update: new words notes

New initialisms in the OED


For the March 2011 release of OED Online, we have selected for publication a number of noteworthy initialisms—abbreviations consisting of the initial letters of a name or expression. Some of these—such as OMG  [OMG int. (and n.) and adj.]: ‘Oh my God’ (or sometimes ‘gosh’, ‘goodness’, etc.) and LOL  [LOL int. and n./2]: ‘laughing out loud’—are strongly associated with the language of electronic communications (email, texting, social networks, blogs, and so on). They join other entries of this sort: IMHO (‘in my humble opinion’) [IMHO at I n./1], TMI (‘too much information’)  [TMI at T n.], and BFF (‘best friends forever’) [BFF at B n.], among others.

Of course in such a context initialisms are quicker to type than the full forms, and (in the case of text messages, or Twitter, for example) they help to say more in media where there is a limit to a number of characters one may use in a single message. OMG and LOL are found outside of electronic contexts, however; in print, and even in spoken use (see, for example, the 2003 quotation for LOL int.), where there often seems to be a bit more than simple abbreviation going on. The intention is usually to signal an informal, gossipy mode of expression, and perhaps parody the level of unreflective enthusiasm or overstatement that can sometimes appear in online discourse, while at the same time marking oneself as an ‘insider’ au fait with the forms of expression associated with the latest technology.

As such usage indicates, many people would consider these recent coinages, from the last 10 or 20 years, and associate them with a younger generation conversant with all forms of digital communications. As is often the case, OED’s research has revealed some unexpected historical  perspectives: our first quotation for OMG is from a personal letter from 1917; the letters LOL had a previous life, starting in 1960, denoting an elderly woman (or ‘little old lady’; see LOL n./1); and the entry for FYI  [FYI phr., adj., and n.], for example, shows it originated in the language of memoranda in 1941.

Rise of the Wag

This release also contains another initialism—an acronym, in fact (acronyms being initialisms which are pronounced as words rather than letter by letter)—less connected to online media, although it is certainly used on them. Wag  [WAG n./4] is notable for the extremely fast journey from its introduction to the language to its use as usual English vocabulary. In 2002, the Sunday Telegraph reported that the staff at the England footballers’ pre-World Cup training camp referred to the players’ partners collectively as ‘Wags’, from the initial letters of ‘wives and girlfriends’. The term then remained relatively dormant, except for a small and brief revival around the time of Euro 2004, before the 2006 World Cup in Germany saw an explosion of usage, as the women, including Victoria Beckham and Colleen McLoughlin (now Colleen Rooney), had a high profile of their own, and were a visible element (especially to the media) of the England team’s presence in their base, Baden-Baden. Debates raged in the newspapers about whether the women’s presence was ‘distracting’ the footballers, alongside an equal fascination with what they were buying and wearing.

Such was the exposure the term received in this period that it became a byword for the female partners of male professionals (in football and in other spheres), often connoting a glamorous or extravagant lifestyle and a high media profile. By 2007, as the OED’s quotation paragraph shows, a general readership could be expected to understand sentences such as ‘dresses that, unless you’re a Wag, are best worn with small heels instead of stilettos’ and ‘And not only did the darts WAGs attend tournaments, they had to do so without drinking’; sentences that, ten years ago, would have been utterly baffling. It is quite uncommon for new words to reach such a level of ubiquity in such a short time after their first appearance, and that the word Wag has done so perhaps demonstrates not so much its own inherent usefulness or catchiness as the influence that the print media, especially in its coverage of big stories such as the World Cup, can still have on the ways in which language is used, even in the age of social networking.
Graeme Diamond, OED

Other new words in the OED

Off the menu

As the culinary appetites of the English-speaking world grow ever more diverse, loan words referring to new cuisines are a perennial source of new OED entries. The March 2011 update sees us adding such far-flung items as banh mi n. (also known as a Vietnamese sandwich n.), taquito n. (a crisp-fried Tex-Mex snack), and kleftiko n. (a Greek dish of slow-cooked lamb). Dishes from the English-speaking world are also in evidence, with new entries for the classic English dessert Eton mess n., the American doughnut hole n., and that emblem of West Coast US sushi culture, the California roll. And speaking of food, the OED now acknowledges the ten- (or three-, five- etc.) second rule [second n.1 Additions (b)], which allows for the eating of a delicious morsel that has fallen to the floor, provided that it is retrieved within the specified period of time.

♥ to heart

The new sense added to heart v. in this update may be the first English usage to develop via the medium of T-shirts and bumper-stickers. It originated as a humorous reference to logos featuring a picture of a heart as a symbol for the verb love, like that of the famous ‘I ♥ NY’ tourism campaign. Our earliest quote for this use, from 1984, uses the verb in ‘I heart my dog’s head’, a jokey play on bumper stickers featuring a heart and a picture of the face of a particular breed of dog (expressing a person’s enthusiasm for, say, shih-tzus) which itself became a popular bumper sticker.  From these beginnings, heart v. has gone on to live an existence in more traditional genres of literature as a colloquial synonym for ‘to love’.

 From a land down under

The OED aims to cover lexical developments from throughout the English-speaking world. In this update, a few new items from Australian English enter the dictionary for the first time: flat white  n., a style of espresso drink with finely textured foamed milk; tragic n., a ‘boring or socially inept person, esp. one with an obsessive interest or hobby’; and yidaki n., an Australian Aboriginal term for the musical instrument better known in English as a didgeridoo.

Mad hatters

The new entry for tinfoil hat  n. recounts how the shiny chapeau began its life with only festive connotations. However, in 1986, just over a century after its first attestation as an innocent party favour, the tinfoil hat migrated to a more sinister milieu, popularly associated with conspiracy theories suggesting that such headwear could protect the wearer from mind control or surveillance. This association, in turn, led to the development of a depreciative attributive use, designating people regarded as paranoid or delusional, and to the adjectival compound tinfoil-hat-wearing, also included in this update.

Figures of speech

There are two main types of muffin in the English-speaking world: the flat round yeasted variety (known in North America as an English muffin), and the traditional American type, small cakes baked in cup-shaped tins and having a characteristic cap where the batter rises above the rim. It is to this latter sort that OED’s new entry for muffin top n. refers, denoting in its first sense the top portion of such a muffin, or sometimes a muffin cooked in a special shallow tin so that it consists exclusively of this top part, without the soggy bottom whose relative undesirability once inspired an episode of Seinfeld. The second sense is figurative, referring to a protuberance of flesh above the waistband of a tight pair of trousers (cf. spare tyre n., love handle n.), which may sometimes be attributed to an excessive appreciation for muffin tops in the literal sense.

The vocabulary of drunkenness is immense, and has been since at least the time of the famous Drinker’s Dictionary (1737) in Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette. To that vast lexicon we now add the term lashed  adj., along with the complementary phrase on the lash (engaged in a bout of drinking).  Which of these terms came first remains uncertain. As is often the case for items which developed in spoken language, the written evidence probably lags behind the oral usage; the earliest example editors were able to find for lashed (1997) just edges out on the lash (1998), but further research could reverse that order.

Other colourful slang and colloquial terms entering the dictionary in this update include cream-crackered adj. (rhyming slang for ‘knackered’, that is exhuasted); smack talk n. (boastful or insulting banter); fnarr fnarr int. and adj (a representation of a lecherous snigger popularized in the comic magazine Viz and used adjectivally to denote crude sexual innuendo); pap n. 5 and v.3, shortenings of paparazzo; dot-bomb n. (a failed internet company); and couch surfing  n. (the practice of spending the night on other people’s couches in lieu of permanent housing).

Also in this update:

  •  la-la land n. can refer either to Los Angeles (in which case its etymology is influenced by the common initialism for that city), or to a state of being out of touch with reality—and sometimes to both simultaneously.
  • non-dom  n., short for non-domiciled, refers to a person living in a country in which he or she is not legally domiciled, usually in order to accrue tax advantages. The related terms non-domicile n. and non-domiciled adj. also enter the OED in this update.
  • fabless adj. looks like it might be a denigrating term for someone who is insufficiently fabulous, but the ‘fab’ comes not from fab adj., but from fabrication, and the word describes a technology company which does not do its own manufacturing.
  • Other entries of note include dotted-line n. (an indirect reporting relationship); the faux-German lumpenintelligentsia n., suicide door n., bogus caller n., happy camper  n., and shroud-waving n. and adj.

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