Words Where You Are: an update
To mark the start of the Oxford English Dictionary’s 90th birthday celebrations we launched the first of a series of public appeals designed to help us expand and update the coverage of regional vocabulary in the OED. We asked members of the public to submit the words which were particular to their English-speaking region. The response was phenomenal and at the time of writing we have received over 2000 suggestions from all over the world.
Many of the suggestions were for words already covered in the OED, such as the numerous words for alleyway used in different parts of England. However, the suggestions still provided valuable information as to particular words’ currency or geography.
For example, the OED’s entry for maiden n. (which was revised in 2000) includes a sense from the north of England meaning ‘a clothes horse’. The final quotation for this sense is a 1989 example from the Transactions of the Yorkshire Dialect Society: ‘T’maiden is a cloathes oss, If thar’s livin futher dahn.’ Thanks to a suggestion submitted via the Words Where You Are form we looked at this sense again and were able to add a postdating from Twitter which not only illustrates that the word is still in use, but has an advantage over the 1989 quotation in being used less self-consciously, i.e. the tweeter does not provide an explanation of what the word means.
Once we’d entered the suggestions onto a spreadsheet and sorted the results alphabetically another word which jumped out was gambol.
It is clear from these submissions that gambol is used in a particular way in the West Midlands in England and we hope to revisit the OED entry to accommodate this strand of meaning.
Finally, the following tweet alerted us to the fact that a word which we thought was no longer current, except in historical contexts, is still going strong in Warwickshire and surrounding counties.
When mop n.5 was revised in 2002 and OED editors were assessing the currency of the word, they had access to far fewer resources on which to base their findings compared to today. Whilst the word mop in printed works seemed to only occur in historical contexts, we can now see from online resources such as Twitter and the newspaper database Nexis that the fairs and the word used to describe them are still a regular occurrence in some parts of the country, as the following quotation shows:
As well as receiving valuable information about existing OED entries we have also, as a result of the appeal, been building up a list of words for future research and inclusion. We’ve already drafted several items which we hope to publish later in the year. Here are just a couple which caught our eye:
A suggestion for the Hawaiian word hammajang came to us via Twitter and here is a sneak peek of a draft version of the entry:
The adjective hammajang has entered English via Hawaiian Creole, where it also means ‘messed up’. However, the origin of the Hawaiian Creole word is unknown; it may be related to the Hawaiian word hemahema which means ‘inept’ and the Hawaiian Creole adjective junk ‘bad’.
The earliest example we have found so far in an English context is from the short story ‘My Friend Kammy’ by Gary Pak, which first appeared in the Fall 1988 issue of Hawaii Review.
The New Zealand word munted meaning ‘ruined, spoiled, damaged’ came to greater prominence after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake in which 185 people were killed and the city extensively damaged. Christchurch’s mayor Bob Parker told reporters soon after ‘Our main sewer truck is seriously munted. I believe that is the technical term’ and this piece of slang was increasingly used by journalists describing the devastation.
However, munted was in use over a decade before 2011 and the OED’s first quotation is from a 1996 newspaper article about recent children’s slang:
Alongside the ‘ruined’ sense of munted, we also received a submission from Australia which included the definition ‘intoxicated’. Further research reveals that this sense of munted, which is common in Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, and refers to intoxication by both drugs and alcohol, seems to have arisen among participants in the dance music and rave culture of the 1990s. The OED’s first quotation is again from an online discussion group:
A story from the Birmingham Post a few years later, reporting on a campaign by the Ministry of Sound to get clubbers to contribute slang words to the OED, mentions the word munted and highlights the fact that it is unfamiliar to those who are not part of the dance scene:
A campaign has begun by nightclubbers to get their favourite slang words into the Oxford English Dictionary.
The Ministry of Sound clubs— there is one in Birmingham—wants clubbers to send in examples of jargon to be included in the dictionary.
The campaign literature then goes on to list several examples but unfortunately fails to give the definition.
Therefore when such words as ‘spangled’, ‘munted’, ‘canner’, ‘cabbaged’ and ‘baked’ start appearing in the OED with definitions we shall all be more informed, though perhaps none the wiser.
The British slang term muntered meaning ‘very drunk’ is recorded around the same time, although it is unclear whether the two words are related.
Want to submit a word? Visit our OED Appeals hub for more on Words Where You Are and all of our latest appeals.
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.