Exclusive: New Words on Oxford Radar

The recent coverage of the inclusion of Twerking in Oxford Dictionaries’ latest online update showed just how much people genuinely care about the state of English and the words that we use.

But lexicography moves on, and the guardians of the Oxford lists are already looking at what the next new words to be included might be.

In an exclusive interview, Wordability spoke to Fiona McPherson, Senior Editor, Oxford Dictionaries, who revealed some of the words which are currently being tracked by lexicographers and which may be the ones which feature prominently in updates of the future. You can watch the full interview here:

So to summarise, the words she selected are:

Bacne – basically, acne on your back

Hatewatch – an old Wordability favourite, first identified last year. The practice of watching something you really don’t like, and chatting to your friends about it while hating it.

Dosant – a cross between a doughnut and a croissant

Legsie – hot on the heels of Selfie’s recent inclusion, a photograph you take of your own legs. One can only imagine where this will end, but politeness means I will decline to suggest it

Appisode – an online episode of a television show

Phubbing – one of the great new words of this year, a personal favourite and one which has already entered everyday use in my household. Phone snubbing, using your smartphone when you are supposed to be talking to someone else

Nocialising – See above

Meme – not a new word, but a new sense, as Meme, a cultural idea which passes from person to person, now starts to become a verb

Lolarious – LOL branches out into its own verb. Not sure what David Cameron’s version would become.

So that’s the latest list – now we sit back and wait to see which of them finally makes it all the way through the selection process.


You Say TomTato

If I told you that somebody had invented a plant which grows both tomatoes and potatoes, you’d think I was making it up. Or ask me what the point of it was.

But the TomTato plant has indeed gone on sale in the UK. Plant one and you will get a bumper crop of sweet tomatoes on the top half, while the roots will sprout copious potatoes.

I have to say that I find the idea of this kind of grafted plant somewhat peculiar and it leaves me wondering what linguistic delights we may have to look forward to in the future. Brocberries, auberfigs, caulicumbers anyone?

For now though we will simply have to enjoy a plant which can yield us both chips and ketchup simultaneously.

Twerking Has Not Killed English

Oxford Dictionaries Online had a major PR success recently, when its quarterly update included the word Twerk, just as Miley Cyrus was hitting international headlines for performing the provocative dance move at the MTV Awards.

Twerking, for those of you who have been hiding under a duvet for the last month to avoid it, is officially defined as “to dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.”

Of course, there were those who bemoaned this development as the death of the English language, or others who criticised lexicographers for responding to the news reports by adding the word in. Then there were those who don’t know the difference between Oxford Dictionaries Online and The Oxford English Dictionary, and proclaimed that Twerk had made it to the OED’s hallowed pages. Which it hasn’t. Not yet, anyway.

Now that the twerking dust has settled I feel it my duty to acknowledge this furore, and also to note that while Twerking has been around for 20 years, 2013 is the year of its populist birth, the year that it really came into public consciousness. It’s a bit like Fracking in that respect, an old word for an established technique for extracting fuel that has emerged front and centre in 2013.

Undoubtedly Twerking will feature as one of the words of this year, when such lists come to be compiled, but it certainly shouldn’t be winning any garlands. This is not the year of its birth, merely the year of its recognition, and while it has undoubtedly played a big part in 2013, other terms have been more prominent and will prove to be more deserving.

And as for the accusation that Oxford Dictionaries jumped into Twerking for its update because of the news agenda, think again. It takes much longer than a couple of days for a new word to be added, and the coincidence of the Cyrus dance and the Oxford announcement was nothing more than that – coincidence. And if you don’t believe me, Fiona McPherson, Senior Editor, Oxford Dictionaries, confirmed this to Wordability. And here’s the video to prove it:

Dictionary Gone, Dictionary Still to Come

The changing nature of English vocabulary has been neatly summed up by two recent stories from opposing ends of the linguistic spectrum. Both give us an insight of how our dictionaries might look over the next few years, but reached their conclusions in contrasting fashions.

The first was research by Disney’s Club Penguin into the language used by teenagers online. The result, unsurprisingly, is that for the most part, their parents don’t understand it. So Disney has published a Digital Dictionary as part of its overall online safety campaign as a way of helping parents to understand what their offspring are actually talking about.

So no longer will words like Keed, Dub and Derp be mystifying, while parents will be able to understand that in this context, Sick is good and Jelly is bad, and that is not just because of the after-effects of eating too much trifle.

The interesting thing for language watchers of course is whether the words in this specific dictionary have enough staying power to cross over into mainstream dictionaries, and whether this listing is just a passing fad that will fade into history, or is instead a tantalising glimpse of the OED in 50 years’ time.

And talking of 50 years, research by Lancaster University has given us an idea of how much language has changed over the last 50 years. They analysed millions of books, articles and speeches to come up with a list of the 2,500 most common words in the English language, and compared it with a list compiled half a century ago.

The results were not necessarily that surprising. Marriage, Religion and God are all on the decline, Sex and Celebrity are on the increase. Words such as Mobile, Internet and Computer are fairly obvious new arrivals.

The list of disappeared words really does capture the imagination and speak of a world now disappeared. Servant, Plough, Gaiety, Telegraph, Mill, Coal – all are redolent of times gone by. It is good to see Hunger going, but maybe the departure of Handshake points to a decline in manners.

So while the lexicographers of the future consider adding Yolo, Spinout and Noob to their pages in years to come, if they have to make space in printed editions, will Grammar, Comb and Bless be the things that make way? It is a sneak peek of the dictionary of tomorrow.

Is it a Fruit or is it a Monster?

When I read that supermarket group Tesco was going to start stocking the world’s largest avocado, my first thought was that the word for it must already be in wide usage. OK, that was my second thought. My first thought was Yum.

But putting my greed to one side, I quickly Googled the word and discovered to my surprise that Avozilla does not appear to have been in any kind of common currency prior to this announcement. It’s not even in Wikipedia, and everything that’s anything is in Wikipedia. Except for Wordability of course, but that’s just a matter of time.

All of which makes me slightly sceptical about the Avozilla. The way it has been hyped and covered suggests it is a new variety of avocado. The press release trumpets that the fruit “is extremely rare and comes from just four trees grown by one of the world’s biggest suppliers of avocados, in South Africa.” Tesco salad buyer Emma Bonny said: “The Avozilla has a fantastic taste with a rich, juicy, buttery texture, and creamy flavour.” As well as its size, the difference in skin colour and texture are also used to highlight that it is a different variety.

Tesco salad buyer Emma Bonny with an Avozilla

Call me cynical, but isn’t this basically just a big avocado? Don’t you already get some avocados with dark skin and some with light skin? Aren’t all the best avocados buttery and creamy? Is this really a new variety?

The answer is surely in the word itself, and not just the fact that it appears nowhere else except in reference to this launch. New varieties are often amalgams of the different fruits which they represent, such as a Papple, or just some other word or scientific term altogether. But the only derivation I can think of for the Avozilla is Godzilla, and that the -zilla suffix is being used here to denote its monstrous size.

Not a normal way of naming varieties and not one I see catching on beyond the world of marketing spin. Applezilla anyone?