A Feast of Lexicography

It’s been a fertile few weeks for lovers of new words. The Oxford English Dictionary has just issued its quarterly update, with details of its newest entries. This follows hot on the heels of new editions of two concise dictionaries, both of which achieved media coverage for their particular choice of trendy new word.

The OED has highlighed a number of the new words in its update. These include ambo, a member of an ambulance crew; kewl, an exagerrated version of cool; and Britcom, a British situation comedy.

What is interesting is how long it has taken for some words to actually be included in the OED. Wordability will always be interested in new word updates from dictionary publishers. But this blog will primarily be looking to pick up on new words and usages before they are finally legitimised by lexicographers, especially given how long this appears to take.

For example, the OED is now including stitch-up, which is of course the framing of an individual. It is, I’m sure, a word that most of us are familiar with. The OED even cites the first usage as 1980, making its 30-year wait hugely surprising. Zaatar, a middle eastern spice mix, has waited even longer and was first cited in 1917. A Zaatar stitch-up perhaps?

Also interesting are some of the words in the full list of newbies which are not highlighted by the editors. These include afterfeather, framboidal, house conventicle, picocell and take-no-shit. This week’s homework from Wordability is to find out the meaning of the above words and then put them into a coherent sentence. I expect many of you will find a suitable usage for the last word on this list in response.

Other dictionaries have recently put new words on bookshelves. Back in August, The Concise Oxford Dictionary celebrated its 100th anniversary with offerings such as mankini, jeggings, sexting and cyberbullying.

A week or so later, the new edition of Chambers Dictionary appeared, with words such as crowdsourcing, paywall and staycation, though interestingly, sexting did not pass the Chambers test, pointing to an interesting difference in criteria between rival dictionary editors.

But almost more eye-opening was the outpouring of nostalgia for words being removed from dictionaries. Oxford’s decision to discard cassette tape led to much online breast-beating as people pointed out that they were still using cassette tapes, and that despite CDs, MP3s and others, cassettes were still a valid way to listen to music.

But even more bizarre was the reaction to an announcement from Collins. Collins has not even released its new dictionary but did take the opportunity of the flurry of dictionary news to announce that some words would not be making the cut for its next edition later this year.

There seemed to be particular sadness over the loss of charabanc, a mode of horse-drawn transport which is clearly outdated but seemed to affect people disproportionately by its departure.

I don’t think this reaction was anything to do with a group of disenfranchised charabanc drivers fighting back. It seemed instead to point to a wistfulness for a golden age and an acknowledgement that former, more innocent times have long since passed.

Having said that, any declaration that a word is going out of date is clearly a challenge for hacks everywhere. Within days, the Sun, writing about Arsenal, said: “The night they lived to fight another day when, at one time, the whole out-of-control charabanc seemed to be heading for the rocks below.”

Charabanc may yet be saddling up for a reprieve.

4 responses to “A Feast of Lexicography

  1. Helen Westbrook writes – I am disappointed to see that the word “charabanc” may be removed from dictionaries. Many years ago, in my childhood, “charabancs” were used to take us on day trips to the seaside and other interesting places. They were not horse drawn, but were motorised, and were the equivalent of modern day coaches.

  2. Isn’t charabanc also colloquially used to mean a ‘banger’? At any rate, it’s a beautiful word and one that shouldn’t be lost. Wordability must surely do something!

  3. Pingback: A portrait in words heralds latest dictionary | Wordability

  4. Pingback: Why Dinosaurs and Birthdays are Banned | Wordability

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