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From flexitarian to evil genius: new words in the OED

The June 2014 Oxford English Dictionary (OED) update sees another wide range of words and senses entering the dictionary. We’ve had a focus on updating words connected with the First World War, to commemorate its centenary, but plenty of other words and phrases have been included in the OED for the first time. These range from blobfish to upcycle, pescatarian to wardrobe malfunction – not forgetting 2013’s Word of the Year, selfie.

Many of these words have already been included in our dictionary of current English,, and have now made the transition into the historical OED; you can find out more about the differences between and the OED on our help pages.

Here are some of the most interesting additions…


Science and Technology

New technology brings new terminology, and it’s not surprising that entries in this update have come from that world. You can’t have missed the fanfare surrounding selfie (‘a photographic self-portrait, esp. one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media’) – declared Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year 2013 – which has swept across the internet in recent years, and has found its way into the OED. You can read more about selfie in our coverage of the Word of the Year announcement last November. Your selfie might take the form of a screencap (a combination of screen and cap(ture); a screenshot) – another new addition in this update.

Also entering the OED are the nouns hash, hash key, and hashtag. Hash refers to the symbol # (technically known as the octothorp and, in North America, more often referred to as the number or pound sign), while hash key denotes the key on a keyboard or keypad which is marked with a hash. Hash probably arose as an alteration of ‘hatch’, originally in the phrase ‘hatch mark’. By 1961 hash was being used in computing contexts to refer to the octothorp symbol, especially in computing and telecommunications contexts. Users of Twitter and other social media websites will, of course, be familiar with hashtag used with the sense (which arose in 2007) ‘a word or phrase preceded by a hash and used to identify messages relating to a specific topic’, as well as a name for the symbol itself, in this context.

From the recent past to a whole era of history, the term Anthropocene has been adopted to refer to the era of geological time during which human activity is considered to be the dominant influence on the environment, climate, and ecology of the earth. The -cene suffix, derived from the Greek for ‘new’ or ‘recent’, has been used since the 1830s to form names denoting epochs and strata ranging from the Palaeocene to the Holocene. The Holocene epoch covers roughly the past 10,000 years, starting after the retreat of the ice in the last glaciation of the Pleistocene. That period corresponds with the major developments of human society and technology from the Neolithic to the modern era, but the term Anthropocene (from anthropo- ‘human’, as in anthropology) is typically used to refer to a much shorter period in which human activity has become a major ecological force, beginning with the Industrial Revolution.


Lifestyle and environment

Two of the new words are pescatarian and flexitarian. The OED already includes several words connected with diet that are formed using the suffix –arian. The earliest of these is vegetarian, which is listed as both a noun and adjective (the latter describing both food suitable for those who do not eat meat, and those people and animals). Other instances include the nouns fruitarian (one who lives on fruit), nutarian (a vegetarian whose diet is based on or confined to nut products), and even breatharian (a person who claims to require no nutrients other than those absorbed from the air or sunlight). In each case, there is an equivalent adjective.

The latest additions recognize more options to describe different diets. Pescatarian is a person who includes fish in an otherwise vegetarian diet (interestingly, the OED already had an entry for piscitarian, which appears in a novel by R.D. Blackmore as a synonym for fishmonger). And then there is flexitarian – a portmanteau of flexible and vegetarian – for (or relating to) a person who follows a primarily but not strictly vegetarian diet.

We’re all encouraged to be more responsible when it comes to the environment, and the wider that conversation becomes, the more familiar becomes the terminology connected with it. It’s a sign of the times that the adjective compostable and the noun compost bin are now included in the OED.

Another collection of words from the make-do-and-mend school of thinking denote an activity you probably know about – and, indeed, do – but the word might not be familiar: upcycle. The verb means ‘to reuse (waste material) to create a product of higher quality or value than the original’ or, more generally, ‘to repurpose, renovate, or improve’ and has its root in recycle (and thus, of course, cycle). Also entering the OED are the associated adjective upcycled and noun upcycling.


And five to finish…

And, to finish with, here are five other new additions which also caught our eye:

blobfish – renowned, in some circles, for being the world’s ugliest animal, fishes of the Psychrolutidae family (specifically the Psychrolutes marcidus) gained the name in reference to its gelatinous flesh and distinctive sagging face.

bezzie – chiefly in regional use in England (particularly the north-west), bezzie is used adjectivally as a variant of best (particularly in bezzie mate) and also as a noun meaning ‘best friend’. When pluralized (bezzies) it can also be used to mean a person’s best or most respectable clothes. The earliest use of bezzie as an adjective (spelled bezzy in this instance) is found as far back as 1865, although it did not gain wider currency until the 1990s.

wardrobe malfunction – clothes aren’t at their most respectable during a wardrobe malfunction – a colloquial, usually humorous or euphemistic,  term referring to an instance of an article of a person’s clothing slipping out of position, tearing, etc., so as to expose part of the wearer’s body, or otherwise cause embarrassment. The term gained currency after Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s infamous 2004 Super Bowl performance.

eyeballing – originally an Australian colloquialism meaning ‘arduous physical labour’, this noun also describes the action of the verb eyeball, in the sense of watching, staring, or making eye contact, as well as  scrutiny or investigation.

evil genius – the two senses of evil genius use different definitions of genius. The older – used of a malevolent spirit believed to accompany a person and do him/her evil, and thus (in extended use) a person who exerts an evil influence, uses genius in reference to a supernatural spirit. A later definition uses a more recent sense of genius (‘an exceptionally intelligent or talented person’) to refer to ‘a person with an exceptional capacity for wrongdoing or malevolence’ and ‘a highly intelligent criminal or villain’.

Visit the OED’s First World War Centenary hub


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