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on the radar

On the radar: July 2014

Oxford’s lexicography team monitors many new English words which are still too new or rare to be included in our dictionaries. Here is a roundup of a few neologisms that have caught our eyes recently.

oxt

Lexicographers typically discover new words when we encounter them “in the wild”, used unselfconsciously by people who are confident that their use will be understood. It is unusual for a neologism to arrive on the scene with a fully-fledged social media campaign and dedicated website, but such is the case with oxt. The word’s coiners intend it to fulfill a perceived gap in English—the lack of a word for “the [unit of time] after next.” After all, as they point out on their website:

While some interpret “next weekend” to mean this coming weekend, others interpret it as the weekend after, hence the use of the awkward, overly wordy, “not this weekend but the weekend after.” Oxt weekend is a new phrase you can use instead of saying “not this weekend but the weekend after.”

It’s a noble effort, but the English language has historically had a very high tolerance for ambiguity and inefficiency. We’ve settled for a single second person pronoun (you) where we used to have as many as three, and none of the very sensible solutions which have been suggested for our lack of a gender neutral pronouns have met with much success. Nor do we have a way (as speakers of many other languages do) to answer a negatively phrased question positively. As a speaker of English, I would welcome a solution to any of these conundrums, but as a lexicographer, I’m afraid I don’t have much hope of one being adopted widely enough to enter common use.

dronie

When arm’s length isn’t far enough, some enterprising self-portraitists have taken to shooting selfies by means of drones, calling them (inevitably) dronies. Singing the praises of drone-aided self-portraiture in the Wall Street Journal in May, Geoffrey Fowler enthused that “it is hard to get excited about vintage filters on Instagram after shooting a drone selfie (call it a ‘dronie’).”  The proliferation of #dronie hashtags suggests many others agree, but since June, America’s National Parks, at least, are off limits as spectacular dronie backdrops: use of private unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has been banned.

iScotland & rUK

The impending Scottish referendum on independence from the United Kingdom has inspired some new abbreviations. iScotland refers to a theoretical independent Scotland, while rUK refers to the rump UK which would remain after a “yes” vote. Both of these terms have begun to register on Oxford’s New Monitor Corpus, but whether they persist will likely depend on the outcome of the independence referendum (which also has its own abbreviation, indyref). 

Columbusing

Apparently coined in a satirical video on the website College Humor, Columbusing is a humorous term for cultural appropriation, alluding to the “discovery” of the (already inhabited) Americas by Christopher Columbus. After the video was posted, mentions of “Columbusing” spiked on Twitter to as many as 2500 per day but the numbers have since dropped back into the single and double digits. 

growlette

The word growler has been used since the 19th century to refer to a vessel used to transport beer. Nowadays it refers specifically to a 64-ounce glass jug of a type which has become popular in recent years as a way for consumers to purchase beer straight from the tap for consumption at home. Recently, more petite 32-ounce jugs, for those with less prodigious thirsts, have proliferated, diminutively known as growlettes.

Juggalo

The Grateful Dead has its Deadheads; Justin Bieber has his Beliebers, and Jimmy Buffett his Parrotheads. For the Insane Clown Posse, fans are known as Juggalos, a term apparently derived from the name of a 1992 song, “the Juggla.” The term dates back to the 1990s, but has been in the news in recent weeks because of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union over the FBI’s classification of the group as a “loosely organized hybrid gang.”

megaearth

The term superearth often refers to an exoplanet with a mass of up to about ten times that of Earth but below the mass of our solar system’s gas giants. In June, scientists announced the discovery of a planet with a mass as large as a gas giant (seventeen times that of Earth), but with a higher density, indicating that, like Earth, it is made of rock. A new term for such planets, megaearth, has been proposed.

locksport

Enthusiasts of the activity of picking locks for recreational or competitive purposes call their hobby locksport. It isn’t a pursuit that gets much attention in the sports pages, but the term does occasionally turn up in other contexts, for instance last fall, when practitioners in New York engaged in a mass picking of so-called love locks (the increasingly ubiquitous padlocks placed on bridges in tourist cities around the world to commemorate romantic relationships). The action of picking these locks en masse (typically before they are removed by public authorities) is apparently called love picking.

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