New words notes for October 2018

New words notes for October 2018

The latest update of the OED adds more than 1400 new words, senses, and phrases, including the selection of items described in greater detail below. The full list of entries can be found here.

A nothingburger is a person or thing of no importance, value, or substance, especially something which, contrary to expectations, turns out to be insignificant or unremarkable. First used in 1953 by the Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons, nothingburger is the earliest known example of a type of slang formation in which -burger is used to form compounds referring to a person or thing characterized by a particular quality. Another well-known example of this type is mouseburger (1970).

The OED records more than 100 words derived ultimately from the Greek suffix –κρατία (rendered in English as –cracy), meaning ‘power’ or ‘rule’. One more has now been added to the list: idiocracy, referring to a society consisting of or governed by people characterized as idiots, or a government formed of people considered stupid, ignorant, or idiotic. Words like democracy and aristocracy originated in ancient Greek, but by the 18th century, -ocracy was being added to English words, as in statocracy and mobocracy. In the 19th century, the trickle of such formations became a flood, with many of the new words being terms of ridicule, a tradition to which idiocracy belongs; the earlier terms foolocracy (1832) and idiotocracy (used by Ambrose Bierce in 1909) express a similar concept. Idiocracy itself is first attested in 1967, but it owes its current prominence to the title of the satirical 2006 film Idiocracy, which depicts a dystopian future in which the human race has become extremely ignorant, stupid, and anti-intellectual.

Terms of contempt are a perennial source of neologisms. Assclown and asshat were added to the dictionary in the course of revision of the entry for ass. (Coincidentally, assclown’s first citation comes from the script of the 1999 film Office Space, written by Mike Judge, who also wrote and directed the above-mentioned 2006 film Idiocracy.) Douchebag and douche have been used in American slang since the mid-20th century, but in recent decades they have spawned a number of derivative forms which are now added to the dictionary for the first time: the shortened form d-bag (1984), the adjectival form douchey (1991), and the noun douchebaggery (2000), the latter meaning ‘obnoxious or irritating behaviour’.

Nineteenth-century Arctic explorers termed protuberances in the surface of ice floes ‘hummocks’, by analogy with similar forms on land. During the 1960s, when submarine exploration revealed downward facing ridges and projections on the underside of floating sea ice, they were given the name bummock (a blend of bum and hummock)—a humorous reference to their orientation on the ‘bottom’ side.

In Philippine English, a trapo is ‘a politician perceived as belonging to a conventional and corrupt ruling class’. Trapo’s complex etymology exemplifies the multilingualism of the Philippines: it is an abbreviation of the English phrase ‘traditional politician’, but with punning allusion to the Tagalog word trapo (‘rag’), which in turn is borrowed from Spanish. Another new item from Philippine English is the adjective bongga, borrowed from Tagalog, which means extravagant, flamboyant, impressive, stylish, or (more generally) excellent.

The word fam was introduced as a graphic abbreviation for ‘family’ in the 16th century, but it wasn’t until about 1990 that it became a common colloquial abbreviation. The original meaning of ‘family’ was soon extended to people who were not one’s actual relatives, but rather close friends or fellow members of a particular group, and it became common as a form of direct address (‘hey, fam’), either to a single person or to many. That usage is attested earliest in the context of American hip-hop, but is now perhaps most prominent in British slang use (especially in London), and as a way of addressing one’s audience on social media.

Historical lexicography often reveals that a contemporary word originally had a very different earlier meaning. One example of that phenomenon is enteroscopy, which now refers to medical examination of the intestines with an endoscope, but originally referred to inspection of the entrails of an animal sacrifice as a method of divination (also called haruspicy). Similarly, belly-bumper is now a U.S. regional term for a head-first ride down a hill on a sledge, but was used in the 17th and 18th centuries to denote a Rabelaisian womanizer.

The usual modern meaning of dump cake refers to a type of simple cake made by mixing the ingredients, which typically include commercial cake mix, directly in the baking tin (i.e., ‘dumping them in’). However, when researching the history of the term, editors discovered an earlier meaning, attested from the late 18th century, which denoted a cake made in silence as part of a ritual intended (according to popular legend) to reveal the identity of a young woman’s future husband. The use of dump in this case was an alteration or misapprehension of the phrase ‘dumb cake’ (with dumb meaning ‘without speech’).

Prepper is added with a generic meaning ‘a person who or thing which prepares or readies something’ as well as a more recent and specific one, ‘a person who anticipates a catastrophic disaster or emergency occurring on a local or global scale and actively prepares for it, typically by learning survival skills, preparing to become self-sufficient, and stockpiling food, ammunition, and other supplies.’ The earliest use of the latter meaning is from a 1998 post on a Usenet newsgroup called alt.y2k.end-of-the-world and addresses ‘fellow y2k preppers’—people who were stockpiling goods and weapons in anticipation of the so-called Y2K computer bug, which some believed would cause a global catastrophe due to computer programs being incapable of processing 21st century dates.

New written words sometimes arise through reanalysis of unfamiliar words encountered in spoken context. Such is apparently the case with the adjective bonified (‘genuine, authentic’), which arose through interpretation of the Latin phrase bona fide (presumably in the three-syllable pronunciation /ˈboʊnə ˌfaɪd/, which is common in American English) as being the past participle of a verb (there is in fact an English verb bonify, but it means ‘to improve’). This usage is not considered standard and rarely appears in professionally edited text, but it dates to at least 1840.

As the OED undergoes revision, new entries are added in each update for words that are in fact extremely old, but which were not identified in previous editions. This update sees the addition of bedunged (‘that has been soiled with or covered in dung’), which is first recorded from the early 15th century. It persists in modern use, but is now considered archaic or used self-consciously for stylistic effect, as in a newspaper article from 2000 that referred scornfully to ‘the Young British Artists with their bedunged Madonna and mutilated mannequins’.

Updation is the action or an act of updating something, a nominalization of the verb update. The word is first attested in American English, and there is evidence of its use around the world, but it is overwhelmingly associated with Indian English. More notes on the updation of the OED can be found here.

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