September 2010 update

On 16 September 2010 the alphabetical range rod to rotness was added to the New Edition: every word in this range has been thoroughly revised and updated. Below are listed all the new words in the range. We have also added a further list of new words from across the alphabet. The OED‘s chief editor, John Simpson, provides some observations on the revision of this section of the alphabet, and Graeme Diamond comments on some of the most interesting new words in the batch.


This update marks the end of an era for the OED Online. After forty-three regular quarterly updates, the OED Online is soon to get a new look, with a new design and important new functionality.

The editors have been contributing to the development process, and things are looking good at present for the relaunch. Watch out for more information over the next couple of months…

But back to the current update. We’re moving towards the end of the letter R, and the most significant of the twelve hundred or so entries revised and updated in this release (rod to rotness) include:

rod, rodent, rodeo, roe, roentgen, rogation, rogue, roil, role, roll, roller, roller skate, rollick, rolling, roll-out, roll-over, roly-poly, Roman, Roman Catholic, romance, Romanesque, Romanian, Romanist, Romano-, Romansh, romantic, romanticize, Romany, Romeo, romp, rondeau, rondo, rood, roof, rooftop, rook, rookery, rookie, room, roomy, roost, rooster, root, rootsy, rope, ropy, Rorschach, rosary, rose, rosebud, rosemary, rosette, rosewood, roster, rostrum, rosy, rot, rotary, rotate, rotation, rote, rotifer, rotisserie.

We worked on roding (included in this release) for the Supplement to the OED back in the seventies. The roding is ‘the performance by a male woodcock of a regular display flight at dusk and dawn’. I remember thinking I was glad there were still words like that around, and revising the entry has allowed us to bring it (and the associated verb and noun rode) right up to date.

Woodcocks are mentioned in more OED definitions than one might imagine (there are twenty-four instances). Another of our words, rogue, illustrates different issues. The most important new fact about the word rogue (as far as its treatment in the OED is concerned) is that it can now be documented from the late Middle English period (Caxton, 1489: in a translation of Christine de Pisan), rather than from the Early Modern period. Previously, the earliest reference in the OED dated from 1561, a time when the apparent prevalence of bands of rogues and vagabonds in Britain was the subject of great concern to the national and local authorities. But wandering rogues and vagabonds were a long-standing problem, viewed by some as originally a continental malaise going back well into the fifteenth century. And so it is not entirely surprising to find late Middle English documentation for the word.

One of the largest set of entries in the current release is the roll group, following hard on the heels of the rock words in the previous release. The verb roll has 187 senses in its revised form, dating from the Middle English period (around 1325, of a vessel swaying or rocking on the sea) right up to 1991, with the recent American rap-inspired meaning ‘to act or behave (in a certain way)’ first recorded in MC Hammer and Felton Pilate’s song ‘This is the way we roll’. In all, 130 of the senses in the entry for the verb roll (i.e. 69.5%) have been provided with earlier attestations as a result of reading (books) and searching (databases) on the part of editors and contributors. This is one of the highest rates we have recorded to date.

This new material has its effect on the structure of the entry. In OED1, roll opens in revolving and rotating mode, and the senses are ordered to illustrate this. After reviewing the evidence for OED3 we start the entry in a way which slightly undercuts (I think correctly) the bold Victorian certainty of rolling. The first senses recorded in English are in the senses of ‘swaying’ and ‘wearing down, smoothing’, before the all-powerful revolving sense takes over. The dating is not particularly significant at this distance in time, but it’s a useful reminder that semantic evolution is not necessarily as straightforward as we might imagine it to be in retrospect.

There are numerous other significant terms in this range. One which is more recent than roll, but perhaps older than many people think, is rookie (probably a shortening of recruit). In 1909, when the instalment covering this range of the dictionary was first published, OED1 left us tantalizingly wanting more. The tiny entry for rooky simply read ‘slang. A raw recruit.’ and provided a single quotation (from Kipling’s Many Inventions, 1893) as its documentary evidence for the term. For the OED Supplement of 1933, this was expanded by the addition of two later quotations, and a further meaning: ‘a beginner at base-ball’.

This is clearly a word that has pricked the consciences of lexicographers of the past century. The Supplement to the OED of 1982 (vol. 3) moved the entry from the spelling rooky to rookie, and added a one-year antedating (1892, again from Kipling: Barrack Room Ballads), and a further fifteen illustrative examples, mainly from the 20th century. It handled all meanings (an army recruit, a police recruit, a novice on a sports team) as shades of the basic meaning ‘a raw recruit’. The Supplement then added a further paragraph of ten quotations showing the word in adjectival use.

The result of all this supplementation is that the entry is awash with helpful additions, but lacks some of its original focus. In revising it, today’s editors had plenty of scope for reviewing the content and structure of the entry. As revised, the noun (of course in the principal form rookie) has two major sub-meanings: recruits in a profession (the army or police, etc.), and recruits on a sports team. Until several weeks before this range was signed off for publication, our earliest evidence for the word came from the magazine London Society for 1883 (predating Kipling). But as the boom came down on the entry, a substantial antedating from Colburn’s United Services Magazine (1868) arrived, and that currently stands as the first reference to rookie that has been discovered. It was a relatively new term in English when the OED first noted it in 1909. One hundred years later its rookie status has been consolidated into a regular entry in the revised OED.

John Simpson

Chief Editor, Oxford English Dictionary


New words

eggcorn n.

As early as 1844, people were reinterpreting the word “acorn” as “eggcorn”, either deliberately, for humorous purposes, or in all innocence, in a struggle to analyse, in a way that made sense to them, what the word’s spelling must be: acorns are, after all, seeds which are somewhat egg-shaped, and in many dialects the formations acorn and eggcorn sound very similar. Since 2003, it has become a widely accepted term for this category of words as a whole, appearing in books and journals, and on the internet, often alongside its musical sibling, the mondegreen or misheard lyric (which first appeared in the OED in 2002). As such, it has now become an autological word: one which belongs to the category it describes.

dubstep n.

Musical genres can often present problems to the lexicographer. Firstly, a certain amount of patience is required to see if the name catches on to any significant degree (frequently this can depend on the success or otherwise of the music itself); there are numerous proposed genre names which no-one but their inventor and a few close associates ever used. Dubstep would seem to have done well in this regard; the first recorded use of the word is in 2002 (although the music itself had been around for a few years before it picked up the name), and it is still much talked-about in 2010. Secondly, one is trying to describe in words something which is essentially non-verbal in nature, and, while something can normally be said about what is characteristic about the “feel” of the music, or which types of instruments or vocals it typically features, one must often describe it (rather as in much music journalism) in terms of the other genres or types of music with which it shares certain common features. As such, dubstep is an unusually etymologically helpful example of the breed, taking its step from two-step, a UK garage subgenre (which is also featured in this quarterly release of OED Online), and melding it with the bassline-driven atmospherics associated with its first element dub.

rorting n.

A slightly older word, first appearing in print in 1919, which despite its relatively long history of continuous use may be unfamiliar to many readers outside Australia. Referring to dishonest business dealings, and more recently, specifically to dishonest manipulation of a particular system or its regulations to one’s own advantage, the word is still going strong today; in recent months, Australian newspaper reports have described allegations of rorting in a wide range of contexts, including bending the rules on salary caps in Rugby League and doubts about how money was spent on a school buildings programme. The derivation of the word is not completely clear; rort (as a noun and a verb), from which one might expect this to derive, is currently first attested somewhat later, although this may only reflect the evidence that we have available to us; somewhere out there may lurk earlier uses of rort.

Below Fiona Mooring, of OED‘s New Words Group, tells the story of another newly published entry in this quarterly release, Rosie the Riveter n.

Used to refer to a woman who took a job during the Second World War that had been traditionally occupied by a man, this American phrase (also shortened simply to Rosie) records the contribution of thousands of ordinary women to the war effort. As OED researchers started searching for evidence for the term, they found them commonly associated with a very familiar image. Produced by artist J. Howard Miller, it depicts an attractive, feisty woman in a red-spotted headscarf, flexing her arm and rolling up the sleeve of her blue work shirt beneath the slogan, ‘We Can Do It!’. An iconic image of the capable and independent working woman, it originally formed part of a series of posters commissioned by the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company to promote the war effort, and was displayed in at least one of its factories during February 1942. Despite, however, being popularly known as ‘Rosie the Riveter’, and pre-dating OED evidence by almost a year, Miller’s poster was initially completely unconnected to the name ‘Rosie’. As the OED etymology points out, in May 1943 – long before the terms became affiliated with the Miller picture (the association does not seem to have been made until as late as the 1970s) – an issue of the Saturday Evening Post appeared bearing a cover illustration by Norman Rockwell, entitled ‘Rosie’. The Rockwell cover depicts a muscled female machinist holding a massive riveting gun in her lap, one arm resting on a lunchbox bearing the name ‘Rosie’.

Even so, by the time Rockwell’s cover for the Saturday Evening Post was issued in mid-1943, the name ‘Rosie the Riveter’ as a descriptor of a female industrial worker had already been in use for almost six months. As the OED etymology indicates, the moniker first appeared in the title and lyrics of a 1942 song by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb, a catchy patriotic tribute to a fictional factory worker named ‘Rosie the Riveter’. The OED‘s first evidence of this name being used as a representative type for female factory workers dates from December of the same year, when it appears in a newspaper article about girls working on the construction of dive-bombers at the Northrop Corporation manufacturing plant. In this article, as in many other early newspaper appearances, Rosie is joined by a suitably-named companion – here, ‘Joe the Jig-builder’, elsewhere ‘Susie the Section Hand’, and ‘Winnie (or sometimes, Wendy) the Welder’, though none of these names caught on in the same way.

Rosie the Riveter, however, like G.I. Joe, seems to have captured the American imagination, perhaps cemented by the unique combination of popular music and art associated with the term. Rosie the Riveter and Rosie both continued to be used throughout the war, not just to refer to female riveters, but to welders, steelworkers – in fact, to women filling any heavy industry jobs vacated by men during the Second World War; in later years, they have also been used to refer to women doing this type of work in any crisis in which the male labour force is depleted (see, for example, the 1969 quotation). Rosie did not, however, cross the Atlantic: OED sources show the use of Rosie the Riveter and Rosie as representative terms is restricted to the United States, although Britain, too, relied heavily on women to keep the nation’s industries afloat while so many men were at war.
Graeme Diamond, Principal Editor, New Words, Oxford English Dictionary

List of new words


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

Out-of-sequence new entries

16 September 2010 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: