Every quarter, the English language's most famous dictionary pulls off a clever public relations stunt: poking a finger in the eye of those who love its
product the most.
This comes in the form of controversial neologisms added by the august compendium, the Oxford English Dictionary, and its
flirty online sister, Oxford Dictionaries.
The final quarter of 2015 brought no exception. The OED's
500 new words, compounds and senses include phablet ("a very large smartphone"), waybread ("food made for eating before or during a long journey") and the gender-neutral
The OED and its Internet partner are distinct entities, and words tend to find
their way into the faddish Oxford Dictionaries before they show up in the OED. Nevertheless, the two seem to share a mission of gleefully riling up word
lovers, who in turn shovel coal into the publicity furnaces of articles, blog entries and tweets.
The New York Times, for one, devoted a recent story to new food words, citing
the Oxford Dictionaries' hangry ("the state of being so hungry that you become angry or irritable"), a condition cured only by stuffing calories
into your cakehole.
(While you're chewing on that, "You might at least have the courtesy to keep your cakehole closed," Oxford dictionaries advises.)
Banking on Mom and Dad
Jobless young communications graduates might already be familiar with the newcomer Bank of Mom and Dad, or "a person's parents regarded as a source of financial assistance." At
the other end of the age spectrum, OED has added several elder
entries, such as granny chic and granny tax. As the OED notes:
Revision of the existing entry for granny has produced new sub-entries for the compounds granny tax (a tax measure which adversely affects older
people), granny gear (the lowest gear on a vehicle, especially a bicycle), and granny chic (a term—often used ironically—for fashion
choices traditionally associated with the dress or appearance of a grandmother).
This year's locavore—"a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food"—was the online site's word of the year
in 2007 but showed up in the OED just last quarter.
An associate professor of theatre studies at the University of Michigan made clear that an entry's inclusion is in the OED doesn't necessarily make it good
enough for her.
Tweaking with 'twerking'?
Part of the quarterly burst of vexation among word lovers, I gather, is the suspicion that the OED and Oxford Dictionaries are doing all this just to get
people's goat (see the fury over the use of an emoji as "word of the year"). Many updates are fad
words that surely won't survive the test of time.
Will twerk be as popular decades hence when Miley Cyrus hobbles onstage with a walker to jut her wrinkly hindquarters? No wonder the word enraged
some when it appeared recently as OED's word of the day.
Others worry about just how far the craze for novel nomenclature will take the famous dictionary.
Most of the fourth quarterly updates amount to non-controversial polishing that add nuance or history to familiar entries. In the third quarter, OED notes,
many of the revisions concerned the word water.
This time, some lexicographer was evidently tasked with updating the word fire. The dictionary's blog post explaining its changes, written by
senior editor Jonathan Dent, offers fun reading even for fire-spitting word traditionalists.
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Among other things revealed by this new material is the fact that the first fire extinguisher recorded in English (in 1765) was not a thing, but a person
skilled or experienced at putting out fires-this is in contrast to the first recorded fireman, one Richard, from Durham, who in 1377 was paid to keep a
The recent updates offer good news for chocolate lovers. Dent writes that "chocoholics can sate their curiosity (if not their craving for cocoa and
calories) by discovering the linguistic histories of chocolate bunnies, buttons, drops, eggs, fingers, and kisses, chocolate milk, ice cream, and liqueur,
and choc chip cookies," Dent writes.
It might not work for every industry, but the wordsmiths at Oxford have found a recipe for PR success.