New words notes March 2017
In this quarterly update, the Oxford English Dictionary adds over 500 new words, phrases, and senses. In keeping with the OED’s broad scope, the list of new entries include such disparate items as hate-watch, a 21st-century verb meaning ‘to watch (a television programme, etc.) in a spirit of mockery, as a form of entertainment’; pogonophobia, a jocular term for a strong dislike of beards that was coined in 1857 but may be more relevant than ever given the current proliferation of barbigerous hipsters; and heliopause, the astronomical term for the very outer edge of the solar system beyond which the solar wind is undetectable, a boundary traversed by the touch of humanity for the first time in 2012, when the Voyager 1 spacecraft crossed it to enter interstellar space. A small sample of the new additions is discussed below.
Dating from 1972, genericide refers to the process by which a brand name loses its distinctive identity as a result of being used generically to refer to any product or service of its kind. Although it may seem like a marketing triumph for a brand name to be regarded as synonymous with its product, genericization of brand names can cause difficulties for trademark owners seeking to defend their registrations. The -cide combining form, which denotes killing or destruction, conveys the negative connotation of the word, but its use in genericide is atypical: in words like patricide or insecticide, the first element of the word refers to the person or thing that is being destroyed, but in genericide, the first element refers to the means of destruction.
The charmingly colloquial adjective sticky-outy means ‘that protrudes or sticks out’, elaborating upon the form of the synonymous earlier word sticky-out by adding an additional –y. The OED’s first citation comes from a letter written by the Australian composer and pianist Percy Grainger to his mother in 1921, lamenting ‘My hair has taken a wild fit, all sticky-outy in ends.’ Indeed, Grainger’s hair was notable for its sticky-outiness, as photographs of him from this period attest.
In Scotland, especially the Shetland Islands, screecham is an evocative slang term for whisky. Regionalisms, being associated with oral usage, tend to be recorded in a wide variety of spellings, and the earliest evidence of screecham is in the form ‘screighin’, which supports an interpretation of its etymology as deriving from skreigh n. 3 (another Scottish slang word for whisky) plus the suffix -ing (which forms nouns like wedding or clothing), with the ending becoming obscured in later use. Skreigh is also a Scottish word for ‘shriek or screech’, and is thought to have taken on its association with whisky with allusion to the roughness of the liquor, thought likely to elicit a shriek from the person who drinks it.
Freak flag, noun
Simple two-word combinations in English are often overlooked by comparison with more inventive neologisms, but compounding is a prolific source of new words, and the OED records their earliest uses just as it does those of any lexical item. The new entry for freak flag, which is used in phrases like ‘let your freak flag fly’ to refer to unconventional traits which are exhibited proudly or defiantly, is first recorded in a song lyric by Jimi Hendrix, which the OED cites from the sleeve of the original 1967 LP archived in the Library of Congress.
Hat tip, noun
The phrase hat tip was included in the first edition of the OED as a now-forgotten term in hat-making jargon: it referred to an oval or circular piece of material used to line the crown of a hat. A new meaning of the phrase, derived from the verb tip has now been added, denoting the action of tipping or doffing one’s hat in greeting or acknowledgement and hence, figuratively, an expression of gratitude or admiration. The latter sense is nowadays associated especially with Twitter and other social media sites, where hat tip (often abbreviated HT or h/t) is used to acknowledge assistance or inspiration. However, this usage dates back long before the days of social media: the first recorded example of the figurative use is from 1935, and it was popularized in the 1940s by the American cartoonist Jimmy Hatlo, who used it to acknowledge readers who had contributed ideas which inspired his cartoons.
In baseball, an eephus is a type of slow pitch with a high arcing trajectory, associated especially with the pitcher ‘Rip’ Sewell of the Pittsburgh Pirates, to whose pitching the term was first applied in 1943. The word’s etymology is uncertain, but it predates Sewell’s characteristic pitch: its earliest attested use was in 1935 in a different sense, when Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez defined ‘eephus’ as ‘the little extry you have on your good days’.
King’s X, noun and interjection
King’s X is a truce term used by children playing games like tag, attested in numerous folk-etymological variants, such as King’s Axe, King’s Hex, King’s Sax, and King’s Sick. It is used primarily in American states west of the Mississippi, but has analogues in terms used by children in the U.K., such as the Lancashire truce term King’s Cruise, which (like King’s X), is thought ultimately to be a reference (via cruces, the plural of the Latin word for cross) to the gesture of crossed fingers that typically accompanies the calling out of the term. King’s X isn’t the only regionalism in in this update that hints at complex patterns of international migration and influence. For instance, buggerlugs is a humorously disparaging term for an annoying or foolish person which originated as nautical slang but is now chiefly used in English dialect and in Australia and New Zealand, whereas buggerlugging, originating from the same nautical usage, came to be used in regional U.S. English to refer to laborious, pointless work. And throddy is an adjective recorded in both northern English and regional U.S. English use to mean ‘sturdy’, ‘well-built’, or ‘plump’, perhaps carried to the U.S. through migration.
In contemporary use, the verb skitch most often refers to holding on to the back of a moving vehicle so as to be pulled along while riding on a wheeled device like a skateboard or bicycle, making its origin as a blend of ski or skate and hitch somewhat mysterious. However, it was originally used to refer to hitching a ride in this way while sliding on snow or ice, an action more obviously reminiscent of skiing and skating. Skitch is first recorded in Saul Bellow’s 1953 novel The Adventures of Augie March, but was likely in oral use before then.
Another new Americanism in this update is 420, used in American slang to refer to marijuana, or the action of smoking marijuana. The term seems to have originated among a small group of friends in California in the early 1970s, originally with reference to 4:20 p.m., the time at which they repeatedly met to try to locate an unattended plot of cannabis plants. Members of this group, who called themselves the Waldos, assisted our researchers by supplying documentation of early use of the term, including the OED’s first citation, from a 1974 article in a San Rafael High School newspaper.
Things aren’t what they used to be
English-speakers have been lamenting that things aren’t what they used to be, expressing the idea that circumstances or standards have deteriorated over time, since at least 1847, but the phrase enters the OED for the first time today. The entry’s quotation evidence reveals the term’s contradictory connotations. In literature, this statement of nostalgia for a better time in one’s youth is often put in the mouth of an old-timer depicted as speaking regional or colloquial varieties of English, so the quotation paragraph for OED’s entry includes nonstandard versions of the phrase, such as ‘things ain’t now as they used to was’ and ‘fings ain’t wot they used T’be,’ as well as formal versions like ‘things weren’t what they had once been’. However it was uttered, by 1926 the wistful expression of attachment to bygone days had become such a well-established trope that it began to be used to critique nostalgia rather than express it: ‘Things aren’t what they were!.. They never were!’
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