New Words in the OED: March 2019

New Words in the OED: March 2019

Welcome to the March update to the OED, which contains no fewer than 650 new words, phrases, and senses. Each new and revised entry has been painstakingly researched, and at no point have our editors simply mailed it in.

Our new additions this quarter include a surprising survival from Old English in the verb sprit, meaning ‘to sprout or germinate’, which was first recorded in a tenth-century copy of the medical text known as Bald’s Leechbook, and can still be found in use on Twitter by gardeners (especially those from the north-west of England) when referring to the process of allowing seed potatoes to sprout before they’re planted (a practice more widely known as ‘chitting’). At the other end of the chronological scale, our youngest addition is a new sense of transition, as a name for a movement advocating a shift from dependency on fossil fuels to sustainable, self-sufficient living in communities sometimes called transition towns. Other recent additions include the astronomical exomoon (a moon orbiting a planet outside our solar system, often mentioned with reference to the search for extra-terrestrial life, first recorded in 2008), and MacGyvered (2006), an adjective meaning ‘adapted or improvised in an ingenious or expedient way’. This is a later derivative of the verb MacGyver, which pays tribute to the skills of the resourceful secret agent and eponymous hero of a US television series that first aired between 1985 and 1992 (when the verb is first recorded), and which has recently been rebooted.

This quarter’s update includes some new entries and senses which we’ve drafted in response to our recent appeals: the #wordswhereyouare request for regional vocabulary, and the #hobbywords appeal for words associated with particular pastimes.

Read about the words to come from these appeals here.

This update also delves into a cryptozoological mystery, with a new entry for skunk ape, a large, hairy (and apparently smelly), manlike creature supposedly inhabiting the swamps of Florida, first mentioned by this name in 1971; upgrades our online security features by looking at the targeted Internet fraud known as spear phishing (2004); and reveals that canned laughter has been available since 1910 (when it came on a phonograph cylinder), although it wasn’t until the 1950s that its use to ‘sweeten’ or entirely replace the reactions of a live audience in broadcasting became widespread. It deals with the recent rise in the popularity of the electric bicycle or e-bike, serves up plates of farro and delicate and attractive spritz cookies (made with a cookie press), traces the use of fever to mean ‘an intense enthusiasm for something’ back to a bout of ‘war fever’ in 1761, and ignores all naysaying to bring you an entry covering those archetypal killjoys negative Nelly, negative Nancy, and their somewhat more butch 1934 predecessor negative Ned .

13/10, would define again: puggles, maltipoos, and other heckin good floofers

Around a decade ago, OED editors revising the Dictionary’s entry for ‘dog’  were able to trace changing linguistic attitudes to Canis familiaris in the emergence and shifting fortunes of phrases and compounds. These documented an early history of fear, exploitation, and mistreatment, and—during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—the emergence of the idea of the dog as ‘man’s best friend’, catered for with its own biscuits, baskets, and sitters. Although dogs had previously been sorted into general categories depending on their form and fitness for particular activities and jobs (a fifteenth-century list mentions among others, ‘grehowndys,Mastewys,spaynelle[s],terrourys,and smale poupes ffor lady chambers’), it was in the nineteenth century that the idea of distinct dog breeds emerged, and in which the standards for most pedigree varieties familiar today were fixed by Victorian breeders. In the last few decades, though, the popularity of a growing assortment of dogs crossbred from two existing pedigree breeds has been steadily rising.

This update adds a few more doggos to an expanding catalogue of cross-breeds (OED already includes entries for the poodle-derived labradoodle, schnoodle, and goldendoodle): the puggle, a cross between a pug and a beagle first mentioned in 2002; the more venerable Maltese and poodle mix known as a maltipoo (offered for sale under this name in 1968); and the dorgi, a dachshund/corgi cross. The last of these is a crossbreed with an impressive lineage, and our earliest quotation (from the Birmingham Post in 1975) namechecks Tinker, a dorgi owned by Queen Elizabeth II, a noted breeder of both dorgis and Pembroke Welsh Corgis, and whose current dogs, Candy and Vulcan, are both dorgis.

An older, more established breed making its first appearance in OED also owes its fame to having friends in very high places: the waterproof, hypoallergenic fur and webbed toes of the Portuguese water dog came to widespread notice when, in 2009, 70 years after this English name for the breed was first recorded, the Obamas brought a six-month old male dog called Bo to the White House.

Assistance dogs and other assistance animals also make their OED debut in this update.

Gender strategies

Increasing awareness of, and sensitivity to, issues surrounding gender identity are reflected in several new entries in OED this quarter. Latin@ (recorded from 2000) uses the ‘at’ typographical symbol, and its resemblance to a combination of the letters a and o, in order to make combined reference to both the feminine and masculine forms Latina and Latino, and is sometimes expanded when spoken aloud to ‘Latino and/or Latina’ or ‘Latina and/or Latino’, although forms with both a schwa (la-TEEN-uh) and a diphthong (la-TEEN-ow) are also common. The ‘x’ in Latinx (la-TEEN-ex, dating from 2008), was probably chosen originally to represent an unknown or variable quality, but the implied erasure of gendered forms by x (as opposed to their combination in @) has led to its adoption by Latin American people who do not identify themselves as either male or female, but rather as another or no gender, or as a combination of genders.

Other additions in this update attempt to grapple with or avoid the vexed question of gendered language. Peoplekind was first used in the 1950s as a gender-neutral alternative to mankind or womankind, but by 1980 was already being used mockingly by writers satirizing attempts to avoid gendered language. A number of gender-neutral, gender-inclusive, or ungendered pronouns and related adjectives are also included in OED for the first time, including hir—first suggested (in the form hier) in the Baltimore Sun in 1910, before being embraced by the editorial staff of Californian Sacramento Bee newspaper, which used it as an alternative to him or her and his or her in its pages between 1920 and the late 1940s—and zir, a relative newbie which appears in Usenet newsgroup discussions from 1993. (Professor Dennis Baron of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has generously supplied early examples of these and other ‘alternative pronouns’ uncovered in his research on the subject.) The concept of the misgendering of a person, often by the use of inappropriate pronouns has been traced back to the 1970s (the verb misgender and the adjective misgendered both have older, though rare, senses relating to the application of grammatical gender to a word).

High time for an update?

Moves to legalize or to decriminalize the use of cannabis in some parts of North America over the course of the past few years have made revision of our existing entries for cannabis and its derivatives especially desirable. Updated and expanded entries for cannabis and related words go online in this update, and their careful tending by OED revisers has yielded a rich crop of neologisms. The commercialization (legal or otherwise) of cannabis is covered by new entries for cannabis industry and the portmanteau word cannabusiness, while the rise in the use of medical marijuana is represented by cannabis dispensary. Other specific outlets for the drug are dealt with at cannabis shop and in entries for the licensed cannabis cafes or coffee shops of the Netherlands and later elsewhere (first mentioned in British sources in the mid-1980s), where—perhaps—cannabis edibles made with cannabutter might be bought and consumed.

If you prefer a more traditional form of intoxication, you could ask the bartender for a grasshopper cocktail (a vivid combination of crème de menthe, crème de cacao, and actual cream, said to have been created in 1919, but especially popular in the 1950s), an Aperol spritz (which fizzes onto the scene in 2003), a spritzy white wine, or simply a beer, making sure that it isn’t skunked; that is, spoiled and smelly from too much exposure to light. Just remember, carefully does it—you don’t want to end up as drunk as a skunk (1929).

Right: if you’re still able to focus after all that, or if you wisely abstained, thanks for reading; hopefully we’ll see you again for our next update, or, as they say in Yorkshire, sithee!

Read the full new words list for March 2019 here.

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.