Tag Archives: Chambers

New Words Which are not Ridic

The tail end of summer is always a fertile time for lovers of new words. ‘Tis the season of dictionary updates, and as each publisher puts out their own list of additions, so column inches and discussions ensue about their relative merits as English vocabulary enjoys a brief moment in the media spotlight.

Now, as Wordability prepares to enter its second year (a year already, amazing!), I have decided to buck my usual trend and not bemoan the length of time it takes for established words to gain acceptance. And it would be easy. After all, OED online has finally recognised Tweeps, a person’s Twitter followers, a word which while recent has certainly gained enough credibility over the last couple of years to have deserved official recognition before now. Meanwhile in the States, Merriam-Webster has included sexting and gastropub for the first time, words that have been around for some time.

No, what has bothered me about this particular round of coverage is the reaction of some commentators and in discussion pages about some of the words which have been included. The OED’s acceptance of Ridic and Mwahahaha, Chambers adding Glamping and Defriend to a section of its thesaurus - words such as these have seen the language pedants roll up their sleeves and go to work.

The curmudgeons argue that such words defile the English language, that its purity and beauty is somehow soiled by these trendy new terms as they gain usage and then acceptance. And of course, everybody who gives this opinion completely misses the point.

Because English is not a static museum piece, it is not a thing put into a book to be learnt as it is. No, it is a beautifully evolving stream, which is allowed to constantly change and grow to truly reflect how its speakers use it. Its incredible flexibility is one of the principal reasons behind its success as a global tongue, and not acknowledging this is simply not getting it. It is vital for dictionary makers to add new words as they become popular and embedded, and not listen to the luddites who would still speak like Shakespeare.

And people may want to view the situation in China, where natural evolution of the language is not allowed. Commonly used English words and phrases have now been included in the latest edition of the Modern Chinese Dictionary, and scholars have argued that Chinese law itself has been broken by the move.

Pedants in the English-speaking world may think they want a language which doesn’t change, and may believe they want dictionary makers to ignore the language that is actually spoken. But it is vital that lexicographers continue to reflect the language as it truly is, and that we all celebrate the fact that we live somewhere where they are allowed to do that.

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.