The Oxford English Dictionary updates its canon quarterly to account for the ever changing landscape of the English language. But besides the new editions this quarter, it has also decided to update some of the old words that have changed meaning over time.
“If we just went alphabetically, we’d never get to the important developments,” said senior editor Katherine Martin.
One update in March was for the “very outdated” definition of the eating disorder bulimia. In the 1933 Oxford, it was called “bulimy” and used as a synonym for voracious: “a morbid hunger, chiefly occurring in idiots and maniacs.”
“Hybrid” is now defined as an adjective but also a noun referring to a dual-power road vehicle, and the verb “to bust” includes a long list of things bustable: caps, humps, suds, moves and rhymes.
While words such as “tweet” and “retweet” and “Twitterverse” from the world of microblogging site Twitter are in the current dictionary online, they’re not yet ready for immortalization in print.
“Imagine if we’d jumped at the terms related to Friendster,” Martin said, referring to the early social network launched in 2002. “We’d look foolish now.”
Modern editors believe the early OED editors were a bit hasty in including some words, she said.
“To aerobat,” for example, meaning to fly a plane in aerobatic manoeuvres. The phrase didn’t stick. Nor did a few OED 1933 edition words, such as “meteorette” (a small shooting star) or “photagogue” (a person who brings enlightenment).
Among the 1,700 words that made the OED online cut in the March quarterly release are “LARPing” (live action role-playing, first used in 1990) and “scratchiti,” which means words or images engraved or etched illegally into public surfaces.
Blended words, or words made up of combining two existing words, are a hugely popular modern phenomenon possibly spurred by Twitter hashtag-coined words such as “Snowmaggedon.”
Not all of them excel, Martin said.
The shiny new coinage “appcessory,” for an accessory to a mobile device application, “doesn’t seem likely to succeed to me,” mused Martin. “I don’t know if it’s a concept that requires a word.”
While “dogoir,” a memoir of a dog, may have 449,000 Google hits, it warms no OED hearts thus far.