December 2010 update

The latest update of the OED, published on 1 December 2010, revises more than 2,400 entries and adds new words from across the dictionary. The OED‘s chief editor, John Simpson, provides some observations on the revisions in this update, and Graeme Diamond comments on some of the most interesting new words in the batch. A full list of new words can be found below.


For this release the roll-call of newly revised and updated entries shares centre-stage with the new site design and functionality. Nevertheless, over 2,400 entries have been revised this quarter, in something of a ‘bumper’ package. Within these 2,400 plus entries there are some 8,700 subsenses and nested compounds and phrases, which is a much higher proportion than normal and reflects the importance and ‘size’ of many of these words in English.

There are, intentionally, several strands of related words in the current release. In addition, the majority of words come from the first half of the alphabet, where the OED entries are noticeably more in need of revision than later on. As ever, the words have been chosen largely because they are amongst those which have been most productive (of new senses and compounds) in recent years. And as before, when one key word is chosen (such as dog), all of the surrounding words are normally revised (e.g. the full sequence from dog to dogwood).

Some key strands include:

(including) active, activity, actor, actual, actually

The entry for the verb to be is unusual, in that its list of variant forms and its etymology outstrip in extent those of any entry so far revised. Sense 2 of actor (‘a doer or agent’; formerly sense 3) is yet another example of a subsense previously first cited from Shakespeare, but now shown to have been firmly established in the late Middle Ages. The use of actually as a sentence-adverb (‘Actually, you didn’t!’) is added, with evidence dating back to Louisa May Alcott.

(including) anal, analect, analogy, analyse, analysis, analyst, analytical, cybernetics, cyberspace, digi-, digit, digitization, digitize

In 1972 the Supplement to the OED added an adjectival sense to analogue and since 2000, when the OED first went online, further small additions to the entry have gradually been made. Full revision has now allowed editors to sweep these up into their proper place in the entry, and (by joint publication) to ensure that wherever appropriate the entries for analogue and digital properly mesh. Restructuring of digit means that the entry shows clearly that the term was first used in English in a numerical sense (from post-classical Latin), and that the sense ‘finger’(though older in Latin) appears to have made its way into English some 250 years after the ‘number’ use.

(including, amongst others) animate, animation, animosity, dogged, doggedly, doggedness, doggerel, dogma, dogmatic, Hogmanay

Although dog, frog, and hog are unrelated as animals, they all present interesting and partially connected etymological questions. They are recorded from Old English times, and are further examples of short words which are not as simple in their history as one might imagine. See the entries themselves for detailed discussion!

(including) biochemistry, biographer, biography, biological, biologist, biology

English may not have been as quick off the mark with bio- words as were French and German. Although we had Latin bio- words in English from the seventeenth century, we did not start creating English words using this combining form until the early years of the nineteenth century. The majority of these words are scientific in meaning, and many are largely restricted to specialist contexts. Biography, firmly established in the non-scientific sphere along with its derivatives, arose in English, it seems, in the middle years of the seventeenth century. This prompts the question of which word was used for ‘biography’ before ‘biography’ existed, to which the answer (according to the OED and its Historical Thesaurus) was predominantly ‘life’.

(including) create, creationism, creationist, creative, creativity, creator, creature, earthenware, earthling, earthly, earth mother, earthquake, earth-shaking, earthy, fossick, fossilize, galactic, universal, universe, university, world, world-class, worldly, world-weary

The First Edition of the OED dates earthling ‘an inhabitant of the earth’ from Thomas Nashe (1593). After reviewing the evidence, the new entry breaks this sense in two, leaving Nashe and his successors in a subsense covering inhabitants of earth as opposed to heaven, whilst introducing a new subsense (dating from 1850s America) where the sense is someone from earth as opposed to a being from another planet (the now-dominant sense in science fiction). The revised entry for worldly-wiseman reminds us that Bunyan’s character does not appear in the first edition of Pilgrim’s Progress, but walks on to this earthly stage on page 16 of the second (1679) edition.

(including) conservation, conserve, laboratory, laborious, liberalism, liberality, liberalize, liberally, liberate, liberation, libertine, liberty

Three complex words which entered English from French in the Middle Ages, but which are nowadays linked by their political connotations. Conservative is first recorded in the modern political sense in the writings of Sir Robert Peel in 1831 (at first the ‘Conservatives’ were the Tories who supported Peel’s policies); the first political thought labelled ‘liberal’ was French, especially just post-Revolution, but the term became fixed in Britain by the early nineteenth century. The British Labour party was formed in 1900, but the term ’labour’ had been applied to other political groups for at least fifty years before this. Liberty is now extensively covered at the newly revised entry, which can be compared with freedom, revised in 2008.

(including) id (all words from id to –idium), idea, ideal, idealism, idealist, idealistic, idealize, ideally, identical, identification, identify, identity, ideological, ideology, idiolect, idiom, idiomatic, idiosyncrasy, idiosyncratic, idiot, idiotic, idiotype, intellect, intellectual, intelligence, intelligent, intelligentsia, know, knowable, knowing, knowledge, knowledgeable, known.

The verb to know is a tricky one for lexicographers. The revised entry presents 17 senses and numerous other subsenses and phrases (including the parenthetical you know, as if I didn’t know, and Irish English never a know I know – ‘I don’t know at all’). The id– range brings in a number of different groups of words: idea and ideal, along with identity, intellect, and intelligence, all of which entered English in the Middle Ages except identity (although its French prototype is medieval). It is notable that compounds of identity relating to personal identification are often earlier than one might think: identity card (1900-), check (1934-), fraud (1974), papers (1889-), parade (1927), theft (1964).

Other significant sequences include:

Hidden away amongst these lists is the word dictionary itself, which has now been extensively revised. There are at least two features of the word’s early history that are significant in the new entry.

Firstly, the etymology of the word is now taken from the post-classical noun dictionarius, rather than James Murray’s preferred origin, the adjective dictionarium or dictionarius (liber). As noted in the revised etymology, ‘the care with which the noun dictionarius is explained in the introduction to John of Garland’s work [an elementary Latin textbook of the early thirteenth century] suggests a fresh coinage rather than the functional shift of an existing word‘.

Secondly, the earliest use in English. There was a flutter in the dovecotes at the dictionary offices a year or so ago when Professor Richard Bailey from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor sent along an example of the word from a late medieval manuscript, predating the long-established ‘first use’ of dictionary in William Bonde’s Pilgrimage of Perfection (1526, and therefore Early Modern English). In fact, the medieval use is in a variant form which is more frequently found later in Scots, but it now stands as the first recorded use of the word.

The extension of the senses of dictionary into computing had been included in the Second Edition of the OED (1989), and so the main new area of use for the word had already been covered. But the revised entry fills out what was in fact quite a top-heavy entry in the original edition of the OED. Compounds are given a larger billing, rather than being clustered together in a single paragraph of quotations. So we find dictionary-maker from 1567, dictionary-monger from 1758, dictionary-proof (‘against which the use of a dictionary is ineffective’), and the modern dictionary attack in computing (‘an attempt to gain illicit access to a network or system by using a large set of words to generate potential passwords’). The Supplement to the OED, back in 1972, had tentatively recorded the colourful expression to have swallowed a dictionary (‘to use long or obscure words in speech, esp. excessively or unnecessarily’) no earlier than George Orwell in 1934; the revised entry takes it back to Gerald Griffin’s Collegians of 1829. The potential result of this eccentric feat, a walking dictionary (1609-) has already been published in its revised form, with walk and its related words.

John Simpson, Chief Editor, OED

New words

addiction n.

This is not, of course, a new word, but it provides a good example of how work on new material for the OED can shed light on a word’s cultural and social resonances in the 20th century and beyond.

The entry for addiction in the first edition of the dictionary (1884) lists three senses; there is no specific mention of addiction to a drug or other substance, which a modern reader would expect, although there is a 1779 quotation from Samuel Johnson, remarking on the poet John Philips’s “addiction to tobacco”, under the general heading “The state of being (self-)addicted or given to a habit or pursuit”.

When preparing the second edition (1989) the need for such a mention was clear, and a new sense was duly added to the word, dealing specifically with drugs. The first quotation comes from 1906; John Philips’s tobacco habit was viewed as a very early precursor to this “drugs” sense and given the bracketed status of a quotation which does not precisely illustrate the sense as defined, but which is given for information.

In the course of revision of the entry for OED Online, the drugs sense was broadened to refer to any addictive substance (often, but not always, narcotics), and Johnson’s 1779 quotation was relieved of its brackets, while the gap between this and 1906 was filled with newly found evidence of continuous use of the sense in the 19th century.

At the same time as this revision, the word was analysed to decide if new senses or compounds were needed, using Internet databases and our own files of paper slips and electronic corpora. What became apparent was not only that a Compounds section illustrating attributive uses of the word was needed—neither the first nor second edition included one—but that there was a clearly discernible theme to attributive use of addiction in the 20th and 21st century: treatment and counselling for those with a substance addiction. So four new compounds of addiction appear in OED for the first time with this quarterly release: addiction counselling, addiction counsellor, addiction programme, and addiction treatment. Of these, all but addiction treatment (first date 1921) first appear in the last third of the 20th century, suggesting that a concern for helping people overcome or recover from an addiction was only really taken seriously in any systematic way from the late 1960s onwards. It’s possible that in part this coincides with the greater visibility to the public eye that drug-taking in general gained around this time, especially as a marker of youth rebellion, contributing to a growing perception of substance addiction as a social problem. Alongside this, the late 1960s and the 1970s saw a general growth in therapy and counselling of all sorts, as other OED entries attest: alternative therapy (first date 1974), bereavement counselling (1972), debt counselling (1968), primal scream therapy (1971), rape counselling (1972), and stress counselling (1979) are but a selection of those that made their first appearance around this time. In this context it can be seen how the methods of the OED, based on recording and analysing how the English language is actually used, reflect and illuminate the cultural background against which the words appear. Language is, after all, the means by which we communicate about the world around us, and the OED has as much to offer the student of social history as it does the student of language.

knowledgeful adj.

It may be tempting to dismiss this new addition to the OED as a mistake or gaffe, perhaps betraying the speaker or writer as poorly educated or somewhat confused, groping for the word knowledgeable and missing. In fact a Google search for the word, while returning plenty of results, also suggests that you may have meant “knowledgeable”. It’s certainly true that knowledgeable is now much the more common term, and the word that one would choose in modern formal writing, but it is also true that knowledgeful has a considerably longer history in English, dating from 1574, some 250 years before the first appearance of knowledgeable.

It can also be argued that knowledgeful is the more logical English formation; the -able suffix performs an atypical function in knowledgeable, as it is typically attached to verbs and broadly carries the sense “capable of undergoing the process described by the verb”. Although there was such a thing as a verb “to knowledge”, it was already obsolete by the time that knowledgeable first appeared, and in any case would not produce the correct sense with the simple addition of the suffix -able. In fact another knowledgeable, derived straightforwardly from this verb and meaning “capable of being perceived or recognized” is recorded in the OED, enjoying 101 years of life between 1518 and 1619.

The modern knowledgeable, then, as the OED‘s etymology describes, is derived irregularly from the noun knowledge, originally in an effort to translate into English the Irish phrases bean feasa and fear feasa (“woman of knowledge” and “man of knowledge”).

In addition to historical precedence and its logical construction, knowledgeful also has a semantic claim to be considered a “proper” word, which does things knowledgeable does not. While in many of the examples cited in the OED‘s quotation paragraph knowledgeable could be unproblematically substituted for knowledgeful without altering the sense, this is not true of all the uses of the word which it illustrates. While knowledgeable is an adjective most usually applied to a person, knowledgeful, in its most literal meaning “full of knowledge”, can be applied more widely, as in the 1879 quotation for a “knowledge-full work on the pathology of the ear”. One could, at a stretch, certainly use knowledgeable here, but something about it would not feel as comfortable and straightforward as knowledgeful does.

dictionary attack n.

While it is perhaps a matter for regret that the quotation paragraph for this term does not catalogue incidents of physical harm meted out by wielders of dictionaries—the 20 volumes of OED2, in particular, could cause someone considerable damage—it does provide an insight into one aspect of a very 21st-century preoccupation, the security of the information held on computer systems. Here the “dictionary” in question is nothing more than a word list held electronically, and although the attack for which it is used is unlikely to cause physical harm, the virtual damage might be very high indeed: if a dictionary attack is successful and an automated program correctly matches a password, the files on a computer network or system are at the mercy of the initiator of the attack.

List of new words

In addition to revised versions of Second Edition entries, these ranges contain the following new entries:


In addition to these new entries, a number of new subordinate entries were added to existing entries. These included: