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Finding geeky words at Nine Worlds

Catherine Sangster is head of pronunciation for Oxford Dictionaries. This week she went to Nine Worlds Geekfest 2014 to talk about conlangs, host a dictionary corner, and generally get her geek on.

Nine Worlds is a London-based event which embraces a broad spectrum of geekery and makes a particular effort to bring groups which are sometimes marginalized into the centre of the proceedings. It is the UK’s largest annual residential popular culture / sci-fi convention, and this is its second exuberant year: themes include feminism and fanfic, steampunk and skepticism, LARPing  and LGBTQAI, cosplay and comics, Whedon and (Doctor) Who.

A geek dictionary corner

I had been invited to attend to take part in a talk and workshop on conlangs, and the idea of curating some sort of geek dictionary corner at the same time developed from there. It seemed an unmissable opportunity to connect with people and gather interesting evidence of usage, definitions, antedatings, and pronunciations. So, with the support of my Oxford Dictionaries colleagues and the organizers, I set up my stall, and asked my fellow fest-goers to come by in-between sessions and talk to me about words or senses that might not yet be in our dictionaries.

The idea of reaching out to people in search of lexicographical input is not a new one. I was inspired by previous initiatives to gather words, especially the SF Citation Project. This ongoing project was set up so that knowledgeable aficionados could help Oxford Dictionaries find useful examples of words in the fields of science fiction, SF criticism, and SF fandom. More broadly, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has a fine and continuing tradition of soliciting contributions from the public, and everyone is welcome to make online submissions for editorial consideration.

Squee vs woot, and other important discussions

Some of the words that people brought to geek dictionary corner at Nine Worlds were ones we already have at OxfordDictionaries.com or in the OED, and I was able to get feedback which supports – or in some cases challenges – our definitions and senses. Some of my most enjoyable discussions were about the precise difference between squee and woot, about the nuances of cis, asexual, and genderqueer, and about just exactly what kinds of fanfic are, or are not, slash.

Some words, by happy coincidence, had been in preparation for a while and were on the cusp of publication already: catfish (to adopt a deceptive internet identity), fandom, intersectionality, mansplain, and a particular usage of because followed by a noun without any “of” in between; I was glad to be able to show that our editors are already adding the words that people were bringing up.

Other words I learned…

Most of the rest of the words or senses suggested are somewhere on the path to possible inclusion in our dictionaries, though a few were entirely new, at least to me.

The list includes aromantic, browncoat, demisexual, fanon, fridge (to kill off a female character to further male character development), frog (to unravel knitting), kayfabe, khaleesi, nibling, noncon, pwn, ragequit, and spoonie. Whether or not these eventually appear in our dictionaries won’t be my decision, but I am sure that the ideas offered and gathered at Nine Worlds 2014 will help some of them along their way.

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