by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
If you love the English language at all, you’re always glad to hear that it’s thriving, by far the language with the greatest number of words and senses (that is, how those words are used). We know this in large measure from the hard-working folks at Oxford English Dictionary, which rightly bills itself as “the definitive record of the English language.”
March 24, 2011 OED announced its latest update, revising more than 1,900 entries and adding new words from across the dictionary. As chief editor, John Simpson, reported things are hopping at OED.
Item: the new OED website is a gigantic success. In January, 2011 alone over 43% of all OED entries were accessed online at least once.
The most commonly researched words were dictionary itself. Then love, followed closely by culture… and an old favorite, nice.
Item: Over 30% of OED has now been revised and updated. 285,403 out of a total of 796,591 “senses” have been revised.
Item: 45,437 new words and meanings have been added since the last update. That means, over 13% of the dictionary is entirely new.
Item: Of the updated senses, 27% are “scientific” — or were at least considered to fall within the sections allocated to OED’s scientific editors.
All this is good news for people in love with language generally and the English language in particular. The English language is growing at an unprecedented rate. This is at least partly because of the Internet and its galaxy of new time-saving (purist affronting) abbreviations.
A number of these abbreviations — including LOL, OMG, and IMHO — are now part of the official English language, but not necessarily because these initialisms are new and widely used.
OMG (“Oh my God” (or sometimes “gosh”, “goodness”, etc.) isn’t a new initialism. According to OED, OMG first appeared in a 1917 personal letter.
LOL (“laughing out loud”) had a previous life, starting in 1960 when it meant “little old lady”.
Fascinating isn’t it?
The minute you start digging into the OED, not just new entries and senses either, you’re hooked. Hours fly by as you get a peek inside the words that define who we are and how we communicate with each other. IMHO (“in my humble opinion”) this can never be TMI (“too much information”).
What does a word mean? Where does it originate?
OED is a language sleuth. Its daily, never ending task, is finding out what people are saying, what they mean by it, and where both word and meaning originated. It closely monitors language trends and decides when a word should be considered usual English vocabulary. Consider the new OED entry “wag”.
In 2002, the Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported that the staff at the England footballers’ pre-World Cup training camp referred to the players’ partners collectively as “Wags”, from the initial letters of “wives and girlfriends.”
The term then remained relatively dormant, except for a small and brief revival around the time of Euro 2004, before the 2006 World Cup in Germany saw an explosion of usage, as the women, including Victoria Beckham and Colleen Rooney had a high profile of their own. Debates raged in the newspapers about whether the women’s presence was “distracting” the footballers, alongside an equal fascination with what they were buying and wearing.
“Wag” quickly became a byword for the female partners of male professionals (in football and other spheres), often connoting a glamorous or extravagant lifestyle and a high media profile. By 2007 general readers could be expected to know what it meant… and the word was thus fast tracked to official OED standing.
OED makes a point of noting that it is quite uncommon for new words to reach a level of ubiquity in such a short time after their first appearance. What the rise of “wag” indicates is the importance retained by print media, even in this age of social networking. That surely cheered Fleet Street, where print media circulation and size have been steadily declining.
Other new words in the OED.
“Off the menu”.
The culinary appetites of the English-speaking world are ever more diverse. So are the words needed to feed these appetites. The March, 2011 update sees OED adding such far-flung items as “banh mi” (also known as Vietnamese sandwich; “taquito” (a crisp-fried Tex-Mex snack); “kleftiko” (a Greek dish of slow-cooked lamb. And many other food-related items.
“From a land down under”.
OED aims to cover lexical developments from throughout the English- speaking world. In this update, a few new items from Australian English enter the dictionary for the first time: “flat white”, a style of espresso drink with finely textured foamed milk; “tragic” (a boring or socially inept person, especially one with an obsessive interest or hobby); and “yidaki”, an Australian Aboriginal term for the musical instrument better known in English as a didgeridoo.
One more factoid.
This set of additions and revisions takes OED to the end of the letter R. In case you’re wondering, the biggest entry in this range is “run”. The verb alone contains 645 senses and is now the largest single entry in the dictionary; one sense is to run along… which is what I’ve got to do…
It’s all about us.
Frankly, there are few books as riveting as OED. No wonder. It’s ALL about us. It’s about smart people spending the whole of their productive lives listening to what we say, how we say it, and who said it first. (Maybe you!) What could be better than that?
OED is as vital as the latest email, film, novel, or conversation in the deli. Reading OED you have a comfortable seat for the thing that interests us most about each other: what we are saying right now, new, different, outrageous, crazy, shrewd. It’s all in OED.
That’s why my OED and I are BBF (“best friends forever”). You should be, too.
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About The Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., where small and home-based businesses learn how to profit online. Dr. Lant is also a syndicated writer and author of 18 best-selling business books. Details at worldprofit.com and JeffreyLantArticles.com
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Author: Jeffrey LantThis author has published 572 articles so far. More info about the author is coming soon.