These ARE the words you are looking for: the OED October 2019 update

These ARE the words you are looking for: the OED October 2019 update

It’s update time again, so if you’re ready, sit back, chillax, and we’ll loop you in with a look at the new words, phrases, and compounds added to the OED this quarter.

New additions this September cover a lot of ground, stretching alphabetically from abugida (a system for organizing words or characters in the Semitic languages of Ethiopia, or a writing system used in some South or South-East Asian languages) to the slangily dismissive whatevs. This update travels back to the early Jurassic to examine dinosaurs of the genus Anchisaurus, drops in on ancient Rome for the fertility ritual Ambarvalia, and returns to the present day for a phenomenon celebrated (or at least, endlessly photographed) in the archetypal modern Western city: Manhattanhenge is an alignment of sunrise or sunset with the streets of New York, first recorded by this name in an email from the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in 2003. Among the earliest additions this quarter is an adverbial sense of ange (expressing a feeling of distress or anxiety) found in Old English works copied over a thousand years ago, while the most recent was first used less than seven years ago: a satoshi is the smallest monetary unit in the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, and is named after Satoshi Nakamoto, the—probably pseudonymous—developer(s) of Bitcoin.

Every OED update is, hopefully, more than the sum of its parts, but we’ve picked out a few themes that seem to stand out from the latest additions for you, and to organize our own thoughts in order to prevent us from merely jumping from cock to ass.

Food and drink

Get ready to name your poison, whether it’s alcoholic or non-alcoholic, because it’s cocktail hour at the OED, with a host of new entries and senses elucidating the history of the mixed drink and its cultural significance. A round of regular social events known as the cocktail circuit was seemingly already in full swing in the United States in 1907, although the idea of a wealthy, privileged cocktail culture isn’t recognized by this name until 1940. Items of cocktail attire (1932) added in this update include the cocktail-length (i.e. reaching to just above or just below the knee) cocktail frock (1926), along with stylish accessories such as the cocktail ring (1936). Cocktail snacks to mop up the booze make their appearance in 1927, while decorative paper cocktail umbrellas (or cocktail parasols) have been around since at least the 1950s—although our earliest evidence for the first of these actually refers to a lady’s black silk umbrella with a black, antelope leather handle studded with rhinestones, suitable for even the most glitzy of cocktail receptions (1926).

Revision of angel and related words takes us away from cocktail parties to the manufacture of the raw ingredients of mixed drinks, with a new sub-entry for angels’ share, the portion of distilled spirits (or wine) lost to evaporation while ageing in casks, first recorded in 1970, but brought to wider attention in Ken Loach’s Scotch heist comedy of 2012, The Angels’ Share.

If you are partaking of whisky, cocktails, or other alcoholic beverages, please remember to drink sensibly: you wouldn’t want to end up steaming drunk—in Scotland often simply steaming—or to wake up the morning after feeling hanging.

More solid sustenance is also on offer in the form of arancini (Italian stuffed rice balls), goetta (a German sausage of meat and oatmeal, typically served in fried slices for breakfast), simit (a type of bread often coated with molasses and covered in sesame seeds, originating in Turkey), poke (a Hawaiian dish of marinated raw fish or other seafood, served over rice), and two American salads typically featuring blue cheese or a blue cheese dressing: the Cobb salad (named for the owner of the Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles in 1947) and the wedge salad. Hot sauce is available on the side. The British speciality Marmite also makes an appearance, in two new senses covering extended use alluding to its legendary ability to divide opinion between those who love, and those who hate it.

For dessert you can choose the southern US speciality chess pie, or an amber pudding (also known simply as an amber); if you do plump for the latter, though, you might want to check that it is a sweet pudding, typically made from apple or another fruit, and not a historical reconstruction of the dish of the same name, consisting of almonds, breadcrumbs, and other ingredients, flavoured with ambergris—a sweet-smelling secretion from the bile duct of the sperm whale—and packed into a pig’s intestine before being boiled.

Politics and society

Earlier this year, then British Prime Minister Theresa May raised eyebrows when, answering a question on Brexit, she told an opponent that, ‘If he wants to end uncertainty…then he should vote for the deal. Simples.’ This modification of the interjection simple is probably unfamiliar to anyone outside the UK, and it is surely the only time a serving British prime minister has quoted an animated Russian meerkat called Aleksandr (a character in a high-profile advertising campaign for a UK price comparison website) in the House of Commons. (It was later alleged that May’s parliamentary private secretary had won tea at the Ritz from a Conservative MP, who had bet that she couldn’t get May to use Aleksandr’s catchphrase in parliament.) Our new entry for simples traces popular usage of this interjection back to a tweet from 7 January 2009, only two days after the launch of the advertising campaign which popularized it.

Another example of slightly-less-than-parliamentary language in this update originates in political satire. Omnishambles was coined by scriptwriter Tony Roche for one of the foul-mouthed tirades of government Director of Communications Malcolm Tucker in British TV series The Thick of It in 2009. From there it was picked up by Tucker fans on Twitter and elsewhere, before breaking into mainstream, real-life political use in April 2012, when Labour leader Ed Miliband claimed that ‘even people within Downing Street’ were referring to an ‘omnishambles Budget’. By November of that year, omnishambles had cemented its meteoric rise by being named as Oxford Dictionaries UK Word of the Year.

Elsewhere in this update, more serious political and social issues are visible. Three new additions at anchor reveal changing attitudes to immigration: anchor relative is first recorded in a Minnesota newspaper report from 1979 as a name for a family member, already legally recognized as a citizen of the United States, who Hmong asylum seekers and refugees fleeing Laos were required to have in order to be resettled in the USA. In 1986, an official report on Thai refugees referred to anchor children being sent ‘out of Vietnam by their parents in hopes that they will survive the ocean journey, be eligible for resettlement as unaccompanied minors, and serve as anchors to draw the rest of the family out’. By 1993, the term anchor baby (now usually considered offensive) was being used in a congressional hearing on refugees and immigration, with reference to the status of a child born in the USA (and so qualifying for American citizenship) to an immigrant mother living there illegally, and who might be used by other family members as a means to gain citizenship or legal residence.

A new sub-entry at the freshly revised fake traces the history of fake news back to at least 1890, as awareness of the amount of false or fabricated news stories sent to newspapers was on the rise (three years later, it was reported in the Toronto Mail, legislators in Connecticut introduced a bill providing for the punishment of anyone submitting ‘sensational animal stories’ and other fabricated exclusives to local or national newspapers in the hope of earning an easy $5 or $1o fee). These days, of course, the phrase is more likely to be used to refer to misleading stories—especially those designed to serve a particular political or ideological purpose—circulated on social media and elsewhere online, or simply to brand any unflattering or critical media coverage as inaccurate, untrustworthy, or unduly partisan.

This update also reveals that embarrassed political figures (and later, celebrities) have been taking their mea culpa on the road in apology tours since 1946, and also documents the history of the notion of cognitive dissonance, first posited as a sense of discomfort with inconsistent or conflicting beliefs which drives the formation of individual attitudes by psychologist Leon Festinger in 1957, but now frequently used simply to refer to perceived instances of inconsistency in a person’s beliefs or opinions, and especially in their views on politics and society.

World English and regional words

Our coverage of varieties of English from specific regions and across the world has also been expanded, including the Sri Lankan ambalama, a simple building used as a rest house or shelter for travellers; bunny hug, a Canadian term (particularly common in Saskatchewan) for a hooded sweatshirt; sumphy, a Scottish adjective meaning either ‘stupid’ or ‘sullen’; entries for two Indian film-making centres known as Tollywood; a borrowing from Irish, angishore, meaning a weak, pitiable, or poverty-stricken person, now chiefly found in Newfoundland dialect in the reanalysed form hangashore, to refer to a person too lazy or cowardly to go to sea; and the Liverpudlian insult arlarse.

Recent updates to OED have added items such as bare, butters, and wasteman, words that are often regarded as distinctive features of Multicultural London English, a variety of English most strongly associated with young people in London, and which combines elements of local slang with international influences, one of which is singled out in the colloquial (and depreciative) name Jafaican. Entries for both names, as well as the abbreviation MLE, are published today.

In a galaxy far, far away

Star Wars fans eagerly awaiting the release of The Rise of Skywalker in December can pass the time by checking out the linguistic histories of lightsabre, Jedi, Padawan, and the Force (with a capital F).

We also investigate the history of the mind trick before George Lucas, with our evidence for the earliest sense of this phrase, meaning ‘a trick of the mind, a delusion’, stretching back to 1894. The later sense meaning ‘an act of manipulating someone psychologically’ seems to occur first in 1973, only four years before the release of the first Star Wars film where Obi Wan Kenobi introduced audiences to this Jedi speciality, with the help of the droids R2D2 and C3PO, and two suggestible stormtroopers. It wasn’t until Return of the Jedi (released in 1983, but cited in our new entry from a 1981 draft of the script) that the words Jedi mind trick were used in the Star Wars universe; but it was only a few years later, in 1990, that researchers first saw evidence of extended use referring to conventional, real-world psychological manipulation.

Please come back in three months to hear about more new additions and revisions to the definitive record of the English language. xoxo

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.