Four times per year, the Oxford English Dictionary fleshes out human history just a little bit more. After months of sifting and searching, their experts announce which words will be added, defining who English-speakers are. In this quarterly addition, we are officially live-bloggers. We get mani-pedis. And we most certainly enjoy a slow, smooth, romantic song with a strongly sexual feel—otherwise known as a slow jam.
Word-lovers who peruse the more than 1,200 words inducted this month will find some clear themes. There’s technology (tweet, 3D printer, geekery). There’s eating (brat, red velvet, kombucha). There are drugs (smackhead, baked, head trip). And there are words associated with yuppie hipsters (mochaccino, sun salutation, hand-embroidered).
There are also some bathetic gems, slang terms you probably never imagined alongside an academic definition—like dad dancing (n.): an awkward, unfashionable, or unrestrained style of dancing to pop music, as characteristically performed by middle-aged men. (Lop off the last clause and you’ve got a suitably unfortunate definition for white-people dancing, too.)
Many of this quarter’s newcomers contain some form of head, hand or heart. That’s because lexicographers at the OED are revising their enormous reference in clusters. Rather than start at A and work their way to Z, they’re updating fertile entries first. Words such as hand end up inspiring oodles of related terms, from hand sanitizer to handicapping to hand-holding.
Some additions that sound modern have a long, little known history. Take flash mob. Today a flash mob refers to playful performance art, in which groups suddenly erupt in public places, likely dancing to “Don’t Stop Believin’.” In the early 1800s a flash mob referred to a group of confidence tricksters or petty thieves, especially ones who assume respectable dress or behavior—before they snatch the family silver. “One of the best things about working on the OED is finding a history that isn’t what you expected,” says Katherine Martin, head of Oxford’s U.S. dictionaries.
If some entries seem overdue, that’s partly because it’s harder to get into the OED than online dictionaries, which have welcomed the likes of mwahahaha and lolz. Here is a selection of new words and senses from the list:
debt trap (n.): a situation in which a debt is difficult or impossible to repay.
fly-over (adj.): designating the central regions of the continental United States over which airplanes travel on flights between the east and west coasts, regarded as less influential or significant than the urban coastal regions.
geekery (n.): actions or behavior typical of a geek or geeks; spec. obsessive devotion to or knowledge of a particular (specified) subject or pursuit, esp. one regarded as unfashionable or highly technical.
gut check (n.): from sports: (a) a challenging situation or event which tests one’s strength of will; (b) an instance of assessing one’s feelings regarding a course of action, typically intended to reconfirm one’s enthusiasm or resolve.
handyman special (n.): something, esp. a house, which is in need of repair or renovation and is therefore offered for sale at a reduced price; a ‘fixer-upper’.
headbang (v.): to shake or bang one’s head violently, esp. heavy metal or rock music.
heart of darkness (n.): the inner core of spiritual or moral darkness; the depths of human wickedness or immorality; (also) a place regarded as embodying or representing this.
kombucha (n.): a type of Japanese tea made with kelp.
liveblog (v.): to post commentary about (an event) online while the event is taking place, esp. by means of frequent short blog updates.
post-racial (adj.): designating a time period, society, etc., in which racism is no longer institutionalized or no longer exists.
transphobic (adj.): characterized by or exhibiting transphobia; hostile towards transsexual or transgender people.
tweet (v.): to post (a message, item of information, etc.) on Twitter. Also: to post a message to a particular person, organization, etc.
This is an edition of Wednesday Words, NewsFeed’s weekly feature on language. For the previous post, click here.