March 2010 update

On 11 March 2010 the New Edition was updated with new materials which fall into three maincategories: (a) alphabetical series of revised entries based around significant words from across the alphabet; (b)the sequence of revised entries from requalify to Rg; (c) a series of new entries and senses from across the alphabet. The OED’s chief editor, John Simpson, provides some observations on the revision of this section of the alphabet, while Michael Proffitt and Graeme Diamond comment on some of the most interesting new words in the batch. Below this are listed all the new words in the ranges, and a list of new entries from across the alphabet.


Words and numbers

H. G. Wells allowed himself to speculate, in his futuristic novel The world set free (1914), on how much the OED would grow as the twentieth century progressed:

Within ten years from the establishment of the World Republic the New English Dictionary [the name under which the Oxford English Dictionary was originally published] had swelled to include a vocabulary of 250,000 words, and a man of 1900 would have found considerable difficulty in reading an ordinary newspaper. On the other hand, the men of the new time could still appreciate the older English literature.

In addition, he highlighted some areas where he thought the language would change:

It was not without some sacrifices that the English-speaking peoples were permitted the satisfaction of hearing their speech used universally. The language was shorn of a number of grammatical peculiarities, the distinctive forms for the subjunctive mood for example, and most of its irregular plurals were abolished; its spelling was systematised and adapted to the vowel sounds in use upon the Continent of Europe, and a process of incorporating foreign nouns and verbs commenced that speedily reached enormous proportions (p. 237).

English may not have gone so far along the road of global simplification and standardization as Wells predicted, but he was too cautious in his estimate of the size of the language. There are many ways of counting the number of entries in a dictionary. According to one count (headwords and defined terms within entries) the First Edition of the OED contained (when it was completed in 1928) 484,041 ‘words’. The same count shows that the Second Edition (incorporating the 1972–86 Supplement) saw this figure rise to 562,550. The current revision has, since 2000, brought the sum total up to 597,291 as of December 2009.

Other counts are rising too. The number of illustrative quotations in the First Edition of the OED was 1,829,078; in the Second Edition 2,517,124; and currently in the Third Edition 3,003,715 – just over the three million mark.

A search through the entries revised over the past ten years shows that some 177,000 subsenses are new or have now been provided with earlier examples (that represents about 80 every working day over the period), and a larger number of 244,750 subsenses have received more up-to-date evidence (over 110 per working day).


The current update to the OED centres round four main words: French, general, information, and technology. French continues the theme of major nouns and adjectives relating to countries (American, English, and Indian are examples of words from this set that have already been revised). General and the words surrounding this in the alphabet allow us to complete the sequence started several releases ago when we published the gene and genetic words. Information and technology, and all of the words in their alphabetical ranges, highlight significant areas of lexical (and cultural) development over the past century.

As well as these high-profile terms, the release also includes a further instalment from the letter R, this time taking us from request to the start of rh. As previously, the re- words have consisted of a steady run of complex and interesting terms. There are not many ‘easy’ words for the editors in this patch.

But to return to one of the four key terms: we can take Frenchwoman. This is one of the words for which the earliest quotation in OED2 comes from Shakespeare (the second part of Henry VI), and indeed there are only two further quotations – in one of which the meaning is ‘a woman of ancient Gaul’. The revised entry shows that, not surprisingly, English-speakers have been talking about Frenchwomen since the Middle Ages (from a text written out around 1450 but probably compiled a century earlier). It is a times like these that we are indebted to the work of earlier lexicographers – in this case those working on the Middle English Dictionary. Further extensive documentation takes evidence for the term through the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, up to the present day.

We see different types of revision in the entry for generous. OED2 gives an extremely short etymology taking the form of the word back through French to Latin, and looking sideways at related Spanish and Italian versions.

The revised etymology traces evidence for the various senses of generous along a timeline in French and Latin, before pointing to a wider range of cognate forms in western and southern Europe. In addition, modern evidence allows us to judge more accurately which subsenses seem to continue a continental model, and which appear to be native creations.

Most of the subsenses of the word (there are thirteen senses for the adjective) are provided with earlier documentation, and yet again this is a word which was formerly first recorded in the works of Shakespeare. The earliest reference now comes from Edward Hellowes’s translation from Spanish of Antonio de Guevara’s Familiar Letters of 1575. The entry itself reminds the reader that at first generous meant ‘high-born’, ‘noble’. The ‘bountiful’ and ‘open-handed’ sense comes later.

These are some of the major R words in this release:

request, requiem, require, requisite, requisition, requite, rescind, rescue, research, resemblance, resemble, resentment, reservation, reserve, reservoir, reside, residence, residency, resident, residential, residual, residue, resign, resignation, resilient, resin, resist, resistance, resolute, resolution, resolve, resonance, resonant, resort, resound, resource, respect, respectable, respectful, respecting, respective, respell, respiration, respirator, respire, respite, resplendent, respond, respondent, response, responsibility, responsible, responsive, rest, restaurant, restful, restitution, restive, restless, restoration, restorative, restore, restrain, restraint, restrict, restriction, restrictive, restructure, result, resultant, resume, resumption, resupply, resurface, resurrect, resurrection, resuscitate

retail, retain, retainer, retake, retaliate, retard, retarded, retch, retention, retentive, rethink, reticence, reticulate, retina, retinue, retire, retirement, retort, retouch, retrace, retract, retrain, retread, retreat, retrench, retribution, retrieve, retriever, retro, retroactive, retrofit, retroflex, retrograde, retrogression, retrospection, retrospective, retrovirus, retune, return

reunion, reunite, reuse, rev, revalue, revamp, reveal, reveille, revel, revelation, revelatory, revenge, revenue, reverberate, revere, reverence, reverend, reverent, reverential, reverie, reverse, revert, revetment, review, revile, revise, revision, revisit, revival, revive, revoke, revolt, revolting, revolution, revolutionary, revolutionize, revolve, revue, revulsion, reward, rewarding, rewind, rework, rewrite.

The final stages of work on restaurant witnessed a string of surprises. First, the earliest use moved back from 1826 (a description of the Haymarket in London) to 1823 (the Morning Chronicle of 7 July, noting a new eating house in Paris). As we neared the date set for transferring the data to the dictionary’s web site, an earlier quotation from 1821 was submitted – this time from New York (the Evening Post for 6 July). But by now it seemed that the earliest references, clustered around 1821 and 1823, were for the spelling restaurat. At the last moment, there was a suggestion of a proposed 1766 quotation from Boswell’s journal of his ‘Grand Tour’ on the continent, for ‘restaurant-keeper’. That would have upset the applecart. I’m grateful to John Overholt of the Houghton Library at Harvard, who checked the original manuscript and found that Boswell uses the word ‘traiteur’, which was helpfully anglicized by Boswell’s editor in 1955. After the data was transferred to the web site, a further 1821 predating (from England, this time, has come to light: spelling restaurat; in a description of Paris). We’ll have to wait for July for that to go online. We can’t stop the presses every time a new discovery is made!

John Simpson

Chief Editor, Oxford English Dictionary

New words

Despite their kinship with noise, interjections don’t seem to attract much attention from language commentators. It’s true that in many cases there is little to say about their origins and meanings. Typically, they’re simple (if varyingly effective) attempts to evoke and transcribe natural sounds or involuntary exclamations; imitative in OED‘s description. However, in terms of historical research, they’re interestingly unpredictable. At any point in the history of English, a writer might have decided to transliterate birdsong as seep or peep or chirrup or tweet or twit, and indeed OED dates most of these to the 16th century.

Included in OED‘s latest release, arf seems to be a much more recent addition to the canon of interjections; part of a wave traceable to the emergence of syndicated comic strips in newspapers and magazines during the early decades of the 20th century. Arf is slightly unusual in that it’s been used to convey not one but two common sounds -– a dog’s bark and a person’s laugh – with both senses arising around the same time, and both enduring to the present day.

Our research to date indicates that the earlier of the two senses is the dog’s bark, which we date from 1916 (the laugh sense we’ve traced from 1931). OED records scores of words imitating dogs’ barks: some enduring and familiar (bow-wow, woof, wuff, yap, yelp, yow), others ephemeral, obsolete, or forgotten (baff, baugh, blaff, bough, nyaff, ouch – yes, really – ouff, waffle, yaffle, yamph). Some are generic descriptions, others more specific: arf is generally used to convey the bark of what comedian Eddie Izzard calls “the small yappy-type dog” (OED‘s more sober definition is: representing the bark of a (small) dog, or a human imitation of such a bark).

As with any category of word, some interjections survive simply because they’re highly evocative of (or genuinely close to) the sound itself. Others succeed through artistic patronage. The 16th-century bow-wow isn’t, on reflection, the most evocative rendering of a dog’s bark, but if you wonder why it lasted while others from the period – baff, bough, buff – faded, one simple answer is Shakespeare, who uses it in The Tempest, Act I, Scene ii: Harke, harke, bowgh wawgh: the watch-Dogges barke.

Similarly, both senses of arf were popularized by their associations with irrepressible icons of American comic strips: Little Orphan Annie and Popeye the Sailor. Sandy, Little Orphan Annie’s “canine companion”, wasn’t the first cartoon dog to utter an arf, but his was the bark heard around the world (or at least read across America, in Harold Gray’s widely syndicated cartoon). The Popeye character does seem to have been the source of arf as a representation of laughter, though his distinctive hearty laugh was also represented by original cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar as erf! erf!

One notable after-effect of written exclamations is their capacity to transform or replace the vocal sound they imitate. You may know someone – I do – who laughs with a sort of he-he-he sound straight out of The Beano. I don’t know if this is conditioning or contrivance, and it would probably be futile (as well as impolite) to ask. More often, people will voice the written form as a means of suggesting irony or, ahem, archness. Now, as in that last sentence, one can add a further layer: a written version of the ironic vocalisation. Our evidence for arf shows that it has acquired this status (if you can call it that) as a bet-hedging way to venture a weak joke, pun, or double entendre:
1989 Empire Sept. 103/1 Its sometimes rather shallow (arf arf) story-line is compensated for by its stunning Bond-like locations.
Popeye – not given to irony – probably wouldn’t have laughed at that, but the thought of appearing as a character in the OED‘s own long-running serial might have raised an arf or two from him, or from Sandy.

Michael Proffitt, Managing Editor, Oxford English Dictionary

Below Graeme Diamond, Principal Editor of OED‘s New Words Group, comments on some of the other newly published entries in this quarterly release:

Generation Y n.

As the entry for echo boom demonstrates, labelling generations of people with reference to preceding generations is not new, but here, the handy alphabetical reference point provided by Generation X (itself only added to OED Online in 2001) is utilized to provide a shorthand for the generation that followed. As the first quotation suggests, the homophony of “Y” and “why” also supplies the term with a vague implication of a need to search for answers. Whether we see a Generation Z, and face an alphabetical impasse after that, remains to be seen.

re-rub n.

Although straightforward enough in terms of meaning, this word, from the world of dance music, for a remixed version of an existing piece of music, is somewhat more mysterious with regard to its origin. Our first recorded instance is from the title of a 1992 remix, but quite why the second element rub is employed is not entirely clear. A link with redub seems possible, perhaps via a punning use of rub-a-dub, or it’s just possible that the sense intended is something like “a second polish”. No conclusive evidence has as yet been uncovered.

superbug n.

As a strain of bacteria resistant to antibiotics, this is a very familiar word to most, especially from media reports about MRSA. Our entry demonstrates that it has other meanings, however, some of them even somewhat laudatory. It first appears in 1916, with reference to bugs of the insectile sort, then moves on to microorganisms in 1945, initially of the exceptionally vigorous type which leads to our well-known antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but additionally, in 1959, giving rise to a bug super in a more orthodox way, one with unusual properties which make it potentially useful.

techy adj.1 and techy adj.2

This quarterly release for OED Online features revised entries for the terms beginning with tech-, and these two adjectives, with different etymological derivations, highlight two of the more modern developments which characterize this sequence of words. The first is a somewhat informal way of designating technological sophistication or complication, and the people with expertise in or enthusiasm for this field. The second, taking up the dance music theme from re-rub above, relates to music which shows to some degree the influence of the techno genre.


List of new words

In addition to revised versions of Second edtion entries, the revised range requalify to Rg contained the following new entries:

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

Out-of-sequence new entries

11 March 2011 also saw the publication of the the following new entries from across the alphabet:

In addition to these new entries, the following out-of-sequence subordinate entries were added:

Finally, new meanings were added to the following entries: