Oh my days! It’s the OED June 2021 update

Oh my days! It’s the OED June 2021 update

This quarter’s update to OED includes nearly 700 newly researched and defined entries and senses, including additions to revised ranges of words including bias, card, carry, common, fast and slow, and feast and festival, and wide-ranging updates made across the alphabet.

New items early in the alphabet include amicus (a legal term denoting an impartial adviser to a court of law, or a third party not involved in a case who files a brief in support of one of the participants), amrita (the food of the gods in Indian mythology), and Anarchy used as a name for the period of civil war in England and Normandy during the reign of King Stephen in the twelfth century, first employed by the historian William Stubbs in 1876.

Later, alphabetically and chronologically, you’ll find additions such as video tutorial (first recorded, well before YouTube was even thought of, in 1984) and virtual assistant; programs and devices such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google’s Assistant are also represented in this update by new entries for personal digital assistant, voice assistant, and digital assistant. We see that vote-by-mail was first recorded in the 1880s, webcamming is from the late 1990s (like its shortened form camming it is often used to refer specifically to the broadcast of sexual activity online), and that windmill refers to a type of underarm delivery in softball, first recorded in a reference to the ‘windmill windup’ of a pitcher with a ‘foghorn voice’ in an Oregon newspaper in 1912.

In this update you’ll find evidence that the glitterball made its earliest recorded appearance by that name in an account of a dance given in Tasmania in 1924; and that glitter bombs are first mentioned in the late 1950s, but that the verb to glitter-bomb is apparently not attested until 2008. To get carded in the sense of being asked to show your ID, typically to prove that you’re old enough to participate in an age-restricted activity, makes its first appearance in 1969 (when you’d think teenagers had better things to do than to see a Bob Hope movie), while the sporting sense of being warned or sent off by a referee dates from the mid 1980s. In South Korean contexts, especially the world of K-pop, a person’s favourite pop group, musical artist, or actor is referred to as their bias, while in hip-hop and rap bars are lines or lyrics, to spit bars means ‘to rap’, and to have got bars means that one is a talented rapper or lyricist.

Curiosity, caution, and Oh my days

Idiomatic phrases added in this update include the proverbial curiosity killed the cat, which turns out to be not as old as one might expect (excusing its exclusion from the first edition of OED); the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs gives a first quotation from Eugene O’Neill in 1921, but our new entry has traced its origins to Irish English, with our earliest evidence from a Waterford newspaper in 1868. Where the Irish proverb advises circumspection, to throw caution to the wind expresses impetuous abandon and risk-taking, and its variants are at least as old as 1751.

Our earliest example of to do a person dirty, meaning to treat someone unfairly or badly, comes from evidence given in a court case heard in Texas in 1879, while to put the blast on someone (referring to criticism or reprimand) is first recorded in a story by Damon Runyon published in 1929, with the now more familiar to put someone on blast popularized by Eminem in his 2000 song The Real Slim Shady.

The exclamation of surprise, disbelief, or excitement oh my days, is first recorded in 1895, and my days (in ‘Law, my days!’) in 1841, but it remained relatively rare until the twenty-first century. Although its recent revival in popularity—especially associated with its use in Multicultural London English—is sometimes said to have its origins in Caribbean usage, conclusive evidence for Caribbean roots for this resurgence has proved hard to find.

Existing entries, new senses

Following our thorough revision of kitchen last year, we’ve returned to give the kitchen table a further wipe down and polish, giving it its own entry, and adding new senses to cover its symbolic role, especially in North American English, as the hub of domestic life, where political and economic issues affecting ordinary families are discussed. This metonymic use is first recorded in 1935, and later gives rise to combinations such as kitchen table concerns and kitchen table politics, with our first quotation taken from a 1965 advertisement in Ebony magazine for a book which discusses practical politics ‘at the kitchen-table level’. Earlier modifier uses refer to medical and surgical procedures carried out in the home or outside of a clinical setting, for which our earliest evidence comes from 1915, and to small businesses run from home or on a small scale or part-time basis, first recorded in 1957.

Although fleabag was covered in earlier editions of OED with reference to things (a bed or sleeping bag; a dirty, rundown place, esp. a hotel or lodging house), in this update the entry gains both a new first sense, referring to a shabby, dirty, or disreputable person (first recorded in 1805 but rare before the mid twentieth century), and a new latest sense, referring to an animal, especially a dog (first recorded in 1932).

OED‘s existing entry for lollapalooza defined and illustrated the sense ‘something outstandingly good of its kind’ with quotations taken from P. G. Wodehouse, Wallace Stevens, and S. J. Perelman, among others. This update expands the entry with an additional sense denoting a large gathering or spectacular event such as a festival or fair. First recorded in wider use in 1993, this development has its roots in the name of a festival of alternative music and other arts which began touring the United States and Canada in summer 1991. This wasn’t the Lollapalooza festival’s only (or indeed its first) contribution to the lexical catalogue: this update also contains a new entry for the combining form -palooza, originally used in names for other music festivals (soulapalooza, reggae-palooza) but also found in extended use referring to themed events in other fields, such as an archipalooza for architecture, a science-palooza, and even an Austenpalooza (the New Yorker‘s description of a four-month season of Jane Austen adaptations broadcast by PBS in 2008). Music (and other) festivals are also represented by a new entry for festie, a colloquial name for both a festival or a festival-goer (or festie-goer), first recorded in Hot Wire magazine in 1987.

The ongoing situation: more on the (pre)history of the language of Covid-19

The continuing impact of the global coronavirus pandemic on our lives and language is reflected in a new sense of the noun social distance, first recorded in 2004, but familiar to many of us only since 2020, meaning ‘the physical distance maintained between individuals in order to avoid catching or transmitting an infectious disease, or as one of a number of public health measures intended to inhibit its spread’.

Another such public health measure designed to limit the spread of an infectious disease with which Covid-19 has made us all familiar is represented by a new sense of the adjective stay-at-home, designating a policy or instruction requiring people to do just this. It’s now seen especially in stay-at-home order, but our earliest evidence refers to a ‘stay-at-home policy’ used to tackle epidemics of cholera as long ago as 1893. At mask v., we’ve added a new phrasal verb, to mask up, with evidence for passive transitive use (‘he was masked up’) from 1870 and for the intransitive (‘we masked up’) from 1923.

A word highlighted by Oxford Languages’ 2020 report on the Words of an Unprecedented Year was unmute. Our analysis of corpus evidence revealed a massive increase in the use of the word, driven by the fact that, thanks to the pandemic, many of us (including the staff of the OED) have been working from home using videoconferencing software:

We’ve revisited our entries for both mute and unmute, adding two new senses to mute v.³ (referring to muting a person and muting social network notifications), and three new senses to unmute v.

Pronouns and deadnaming

We’ve updated our entry for pronoun, adding a new sense referring to the third-person pronouns by which an individual chooses to be referred to in order to indicate their gender identity. Although the indication of a person’s pronouns in email signatures or social media profiles has increased rapidly over the last few years, and our latest representative quotation is a particularly high-profile instance of recent use (actor Elliot Page’s tweet coming out as trans in December of last year), the earliest evidence for our new sense dates back to 1977.

This update also adds a cluster of new entries reflecting wider discussion and understanding of gender—and especially trans—identities which does represent a fairly recent lexical development. Deadname as both noun and verb and the verbal noun deadnaming make their OED debut this quarter. The noun deadname is first recorded from a 2010 Twitter post, while the verb and deadnaming both date to 2013.

Should I stay or should I go?

The ‘correct’ meaning of the term staycation is a topic of hot (indeed, often furious) debate on Twitter and elsewhere on social media, mostly from purists who insist that the word only properly refers to a holiday spent at home, and definitely not to a holiday spent away from home, but within your country of residence. Since 2015 OED, as a descriptive dictionary recording actual usage, has given both possibilities equal weight in its definition of the noun (which has been around since 1944), as it does in this update in a new entry for the verb, a relative newcomer from 2008. (If this is altogether too neutral for you, and you’re here for the drama, we can say that it’s clear from our quotations that both noun and verb were originally used to refer to a holiday spent at home.)

We’ll be back with more additions to the definitive record of the English language in September. Until then, keep on keeping on, and in the meantime, don’t forget to check the OED Blog, and follow @OED on Twitter.

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