Whoop-de-do! It’s the OED September 2021 update

Whoop-de-do! It’s the OED September 2021 update

Whooooooo-eeeee, it’s update time again. We’re coming in hot with over 837 new entries and senses to the definitive record of the English language, and there’s a lot to take in and—hopefully—enjoy.

Did you know, for example—because we didn’t, till we looked into it—that before it was a cinema or a restaurant visited in a car, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a drive-in was a farm animal driven to market to be sold? Or that in early modern England to be stabbed with a Bridport dagger meant to be hanged, the town of Bridport in Dorset being noted for rope-making, and a Bridport dagger being a name for the hangman’s noose?  In Scotland and Northern Ireland, meanwhile, to strike a hag in the post is used to refer to an event worth celebrating or otherwise marking as special, with allusion to the idea of making a notch in a doorpost by way of commemoration.

We’ve antedated our evidence for yardie by 90 years, with a new sense showing British use of the word as an informal name for a dockyard worker, first witnessed in the last decade of the nineteenth century, and still in use in the pages of the Plymouth Herald and other newspapers today. Bath bombs also turn out to have a longer history than their recent vogue might suggest: Illinois stores were selling small cakes of bath salts under this name as early as 1925.

Bants (a largely British shortening of banter) is used to denote teasing or mocking remarks, or behaviour which is portrayed by the speaker as playful or exuberant, but which is sometimes seen by others as an excuse for boorishness and chauvinism, and is a relative newcomer, with a first quotation from 2008 taken from Twitter. The related word bantery, although often used now in similar contexts and with similar implications, is much older: our editors have traced its earliest use back to a German–English dictionary published in 1739, where the German word spott is defined as ‘sport, Joke, Bantery’.

In this update we’ve also dealt with the bants-adjacent terms loud-mouthing and foul-mouthing, and two formations which take a more earthy vulgar approach to bodily imagery: the macho, strutting willy-waving (first recorded in 1991), and the basely obsequious brown-nosing, first recorded as an adjective in 1946, and as a noun of action in 1934 (this noun use being apparently earlier than the related formations already covered by OED).

Also in the mix this quarter are the elusive wild haggis, anti-vaxxers, and online ghosting, so if you’d like to learn more, please read on.

Twenty-first century blues?

Up-to-the-minute concerns and controversies are also represented in this update, although their histories are sometimes longer and more complicated than expected.

An often complained-of downside of electronic communication and living life online is represented by new senses of ghosting—the action of ignoring or pretending not to know someone, especially suddenly ceasing to respond to someone on social media or by text, or suddenly ending a relationship or association in this way—and the corresponding verb to ghost. No hidden surprises here: our current earliest evidence for the verb comes from 2007 and that for the verbal noun from 2012, both in Twitter posts. Both disaster capitalism and period poverty are also distinctively twenty-first century formations, from 2005 and 2015 respectively.

On the other hand, the origins of anti-vax trace all the way back to the father of vaccination himself, Edward Jenner, who in 1812 wrote to a friend to complain that ‘the Anti-Vacks are assailing me with all the force they can muster in the newspapers’ (anti-vacks here being the plural of anti-vack, an earlier form of the more familiar anti-vax). Despite this startlingly early origin, both the adjective and noun are rare before the twenty-first century, when anti-vaxxer also makes its first appearance on the scene. For obvious reasons, our entry for long Covid provides no such surprises, and our first evidence for a reference to this syndrome is a hashtag used in a tweet in May 2020. Perhaps surprisingly, given the long history of electoral irregularities, the phrase voter suppression is relatively recent, with our first quotation from 1981.

Drinks and light refreshments

If all this doom and gloom has left you in need of refreshment, you can stop by the revised CARAVAN range to sample the rare and exotic delights of caravan tea, originally tea transported from China overland via Russia, rather than going by sea, which was said to acquire a superior and distinctive flavour en route; it is first mentioned in English by this name in 1798. Now, it’s more likely to be a tea blended to resemble this earlier delicacy.

If you prefer something stronger, we’ve lined up a selection of slammers for you. The Alabama Slammer, a cocktail made with Southern Comfort, has been around since 1980; the name tequila slammer was first applied around 1985 to a drink containing tequila and a sparkling wine or soft drink, which was covered, slammed on the bar to cause it to fizz, and then drunk in one go. These days the name is more likely to be given to a neat shot of tequila knocked back in a single gulp after putting salt on one’s tongue, and followed by sucking a wedge of lime or lemon. In this update you’ll also find a new sense of the verb to slam, meaning to drink something rapidly, with early evidence from Charles Bukowski’s 1982 novel, Ham on Rye.

If you fancy a snackette (a colloquial and often mildly humorous word for a small snack, first recorded in 1952) to go with your drink, you could have a Dutch baby. This is not a gruesome suggestion along the lines of Swift’s Modest Proposal, but an invitation to try a pancake resembling a large Yorkshire pudding, cooked in a skillet and typically served with fruit or other sweet toppings. A U.S. term, it was originally applied to small pancakes in the 1920s, and to the sweet popovers from at least the 1940s. If your tastes lean more to the savoury, haggis suppers are available in OED for the first time. Recorded earliest in the general sense of a meal with haggis as the main dish in a report on the local Scottish Association’s plans from the Sunderland Echo in 1877, this phrase now more usually refers to a takeaway meal of haggis, often deep-fried and served with chips. Our last quotation is an appeal from a Twitter user for ‘a haggis supper with salt and sauce and a tin of Irn Bru’ from the chippy, but the earliest evidence we’ve so far rooted out for this delicacy is in an advertisement for a Musselburgh fish and chip shop in 1926.

(You’ll find lots more food-related terminology in the notes on our new World English updates from the Caribbean and Korea from OED World English Editor, Danica Salazar.)

Revision of haggis also sees the addition of a new sense dealing with humorous references to a fictitious wild animal from Scotland, often said to have legs shorter on one side of its body than those on the other, the better to enable it to run around hills, supposed to be killed and eaten as the foodstuff now indelibly associated with its native country. Our earliest reference to this bizarre creature is from the London magazine Fun in 1900, when Liberal leader (and later prime minister) Henry Campbell-Bannerman was said to charm his constituents by dancing the Highland fling ‘as they sit round the glowing hearth and eat wild haggis to the sound of bagpipes’. Although later evidence suggests that many Scottish people enjoy the story of this rarely seen beastie (our last quotation, from the Southern Reporter in Selkirk in 2010, is an earnest plea that the rights of locals to hunt the haggis are respected), perhaps the most memorable description of its habits is by an American, the humourist James J. Montague, who in 1924 wrote in the Boston Globe:

My heart’s in the Highlands; it’s there by its lane,

A-hunting the haggis o’er bracken and stane—

The wild whustling haggis, wi’ lang bristling beard,

That bides in the gorse bushes, dreeing its weird.

Real creatures great and small

Revision of Asian and related words have given us a raft of names for rather more solidly attested animals, from the towering Asian elephant (Elephas maximus, also known as the Asiatic elephant or Indian elephant), to the diminutive Asian tiger mosquito, a zebra-striped mosquito which has spread from its native Southeast Asia to parts of Europe, Africa, and the Americas since the mid 1960s, a success story which, along with its role in the transmission of several infectious diseases including dengue fever, has led to its classification as one of the worst invasive species in the world. As well as this giant and this tiny pest, we’ve also covered the Asiatic lion, the Asian palm civet, Asian pear, Asian seabass, Asian giant hornet, Asian longhorned beetle, and the Asiatic cheetah. Elsewhere in the update (both literally and figuratively), you’ll find the wide-ranging wild cat the Eurasian Lynx.

As well as geographical names, other naming strategies for wild creatures are on show in our other revision ranges.

The semantic motivation of the general term whooping owl speaks (or whoops) for itself, being used (especially in North America) to distinguish those owls with a hooting call from screech owls (which, unsurprisingly, screech). The ghost bat and ghost crab on the other hand are both named for their pale colour and nocturnal habits, while the genus of crustaceans now most often referred to as ghost shrimp—a popular aquarium species—are largely transparent. The more colourful zombie worm, first discovered only in 2002, owes its name to its somewhat macabre habits and diet: the worms of this genus of bristle worms live and feed on the bones of dead whales that have fallen to the seabed.

Another deep-sea dweller with somewhat gruesome habits and a supernaturally inspired name is the glutinous hag, or Atlantic hagfish, Myxine glutinosa. First recorded by this name in 1777, this eel-like jawless fish is able to secrete large quantities of thick mucus from the glands along its sides to ward off predators and competitors, and burrows into the bodies of dead or dying fish to consume them from the inside.

And finally, the lock of love

Claiming origins in a Serbian tale of heartbreak and abandonment during the First World War, the practice of attaching a padlock bearing a couple’s names to a bridge, fence, or railing has become popular all over the world since the early years of this century. These difficult-to-remove love tokens are often called love locks, and our update includes a new entry showing use of this term from 2007, in reference to the Ponte Milvio in Rome, where locks had started to appear in 2006 after the writer Federico Moccia made it the location of an invented romantic ritual involving padlocks and keys tossed into the Tiber in his novel Ho voglia di te (I want You).

We don’t yet know what we’ll have for you next time, but we’re working on it. In any event, we’ll be back next quarter with more notes on neologisms and the words and phrases new to OED.

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.

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