The media coverage of the latest Oxford Dictionary online update has reversed the usual trend. Newly-added words tend to dominate the headlines. But on this occasion, it is a redefinition that has captured people’s attention.
Previously, biker has been defined as: ‘A motorcyclist, especially one who is a member of a gang: a long-haired biker in dirty denims’. However, OED lexicographers have bowed to pressure from the biking community and removed the reference to grubbiness, with the new definition emerging as ‘A motorcyclist, especially one who is a member of a gang or group: a biker was involved in a collision with a car.’
While bikers are understood to be pleased with the decision, they may now have to deal with the fact that their mucky tendencies have been replaced in the definition by a slight on their safety record. I look forward to a future definition with the example ‘A clean-cut respectable-looking biker rode along the street and nothing of note happened at all’.
Mind you, if the OED wants to think about redefinitions, maybe it should start to ponder the meaning of the word ‘new’. After all, these quarterly updates always trumpet the new words being given status and inevitably, many of them are not that new, and I end up venting my anger about archaic words being celebrated for their novelty.
But I do feel that this quarter’s update has hit a new temporal low. As a cricket fan, I know that Baggy Green has become popularised in the last 20 years. But Australian cricketers have been donning them since time immemorial once they make the national team, so to acknowledge it now seems bizarre.
Even more bizarre is the arrival of Torch Relay and Olympic Flame. I know these really hit public consciousness during the London Olympics in 2012, but there were genuine new words associated with the torch relay such as Mother Flame, rather than terms, and indeed an event, that have been around for decades.
Or to use another apparently new word, I think this update is a bit of a mare.