Spoiler alert! New words notes for June 2018

Spoiler alert! New words notes for June 2018

The June 2018 update of the OED adds more than 900 new words and senses, including the selection of items described in greater detail below. The full list of entries can be found here.

The term precariat, referring to a class of people whose employment, income, and living standards are insecure or precarious, was apparently introduced by the American political activist Michael Harrington in his 1989 book Socialism: Past & Future. A blend of precarious and proletariat, the word has risen to prominence in recent years in the context of discussions about the growing number of people whose livelihoods rely on casual and freelance labour. Also included in this update is zero-hours (1988), which is used in the UK to designate a contract of employment that does not include a guarantee of regular work for the employee.

Impostor syndrome is defined as ‘the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills’. The OED’s earliest citation comes from a 1982 article in Vogue, where it was used as a synonym for the earlier term impostor phenomenon, which was in use by 1978. Impostor syndrome is now the more common term.

Other newly added words dating from the first decade of the twenty-first century include spad (2001) a British slang term for a ‘special adviser’ in political contexts; sharrow (2004), a blend of share and arrow used in North America to refer to a road marking used to indicate which part of a road should be used by cyclists when the roadway is shared with motor vehicles; and acquihire (2005), meaning ‘an act or instance of buying out a company primarily for the skills and expertise of its staff, rather than for the products or services it supplies’.

The word microaggression (‘a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination or prejudice against members of a marginalized group such as a racial minority’) has become markedly more common in mainstream use over the past several years, but it has been used in academic contexts for decades. It was coined by the African-American psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce in 1970.

Lorem ipsum is a form of sample text used by compositors and graphic designers to demonstrate the textual layout of a document before the content has been finalized. The word can be applied to any dummy content used in this way, but the standard text is based on elements taken from Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, with the words jumbled and altered; its popularity is often attributed to its use in samples of body type issued as Letraset dry transfers. The text can be found inserted inadvertently in publications from the late 1960s, suggesting that it began to be widely used in publishing around this time. However, the use of the first two words of the passage, lorem ipsum, to refer to such text seems to have been a later development; the OED’s first citation is from a 1995 article in the magazine Macworld, which rhetorically asked ‘A little tired of using Lorem ipsum for mock-ups?’

The phrase spoiler alert has become commonplace in online discussions of films and television as a way of warning readers that an important detail of the story is about to be divulged. Its roots go back to the early years of internet fandom: the earliest citation comes from a post about the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on a Usenet newsgroup in 1982.

The Bechdel test is an informal method of evaluating whether or not a film or other fictional work portrays women in a way that marginalizes them or which exhibits sexism or gender stereotyping. A work is said to pass the test if it satisfies three criteria: (1) there must be at least two (named) women; (2) the women must talk to each other; and (3) they must talk about something other than a man. These principles were articulated in Alison Bechdel’s comic Dykes to Watch Out For in 1985, but the use of the term Bechdel test to refer to them seems to have arisen more than 20 years later. Bechdel has noted that the criteria in the test arose from a conversation with her friend Liz Wallace, and the test is thus sometimes referred to as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

One of the most conspicuous domains in which the vocabulary of English has expanded in recent decades is that of gender and sexuality, where new terminology has emerged to reflect more complex understandings of this aspect of the human experience. Ace, a shortening of asexual respelled on the model of the existing word ace, is used as a self-designation by many people who identify as asexual, meaning that they do not experience sexual feelings or desires, although they may have romantic feelings and relationships. The conceptual uncoupling of romantic and sexual desire has led to the development of a number of terms that consider romantic attraction as a distinct phenomenon from sexual attraction. To be aromantic is to have no desire to form romantic relationships, while biromantic, heteroromantic, and homoromantic describe the orientation of a person’s romantic feelings with respect to gender, particularly in cases in which this differs from their sexual orientation (either because they do not experience sexual desire or because their romantic attraction is to a different gender or genders than their sexual attraction).

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