Denisovans, quidditch, and latte art: a dictionary update
Does admiring your latte art serve as a welcome distraction from the trilemma of deciding whether to tidy, wash, or ignore the floordrobe cluttering up your bedroom? If that sentence leaves you baffled, don’t worry, it’s not TEOTWAWKI: we’ve simply embiggened the dictionary again – eep! If you fancy a break from the latest Twitter storm, or want to burst out from the filter bubble, then dive right in. We’ve not given a content note, as there’s nothing too grimdark ahead, only an update filled with perfectly cromulent words.
Fans of football (or soccer, to those reading from across the pond) will be glad to hear that the sport has scored two new words in our latest update: vanishing spray and rabona. Vanishing spray is a type of spray used to make a temporary – and hence vanishing – marker on the pitch, particularly in preparation for a free kick. The word rabona refers to a move in football, in which “a player strikes the ball with their kicking leg crossed behind the other leg”. This word has made its way into English from Argentinian Spanish, where it appears in the phrases hacerse la rabona and hacer la rabona meaning ‘play truant’. Its connection to football is believed to arise from the phrase’s use in the Argentinian football magazine El Gráfico in 1948, in which a cartoon depicting the player Ricardo Infante (who had recently performed what would later be termed a rabona) was captioned el infante que se hizo la rabona – ‘the child who plays truant’. This account remains unconfirmed, however, so the truth of the rabona’s origin is as yet still a mystery.
Football is not the only sport racing into the dictionary. Like rabona, the word domestique transitioned from outside of sports and outside of English, beginning in French and literally meaning ‘servant’. In cycling, this term refers to a cyclist who helps their team by, for example, setting the pace or riding in front of them to create a slipstream. In sports such as keirin, a derny – “a motorized bicycle” – is used to set the pace. Another word of French origin, derny is an eponym of Roger Derny et Fils, the original French manufacturers of such bikes.
Still from the cycling world, but leaving behind competition (and the French language), we have also added sharrow to this update: “a road marking in the form of two inverted V-shapes above a bicycle”, which appears on North American roads as an indication of where cyclists should ride when the roadway is shared with motor vehicles. The word is a portmanteau of share and arrow originating in the early 21st century.
A further contribution from the sporting arena is a word referring to a game played with broomsticks firmly clamped between legs: quidditch. Once a fantasy sport played up in the air in J.K. Rowling’s magical Harry Potter books, quidditch has been translated for the Muggle world with feet planted on the ground, and hopefully with fewer bones lost. The non-magical iteration of the game has been around for a little over ten years, and is typically played at colleges and universities, originating at Middlebury College in Vermont.
Also escaping the realms of fiction to join us in the real world is the word cromulent – meaning “acceptable or adequate” – which was first used over twenty years ago in The Simpsons as a descriptor of the word embiggen used in an engraving on a statue of the town founder. Embiggen is another addition from our latest update, but is not entirely new to the English language: our research shows it was used as far back as the late 19th century, long before Mrs Krabappel was around to question its validity. The word did not really spread into common usage until its appearance in The Simpsons, but has stuck around for the intervening twenty years. Certainly seems perfectly cromulent to me, and I don’t think you need to be caught up in Simpsons nerdery to agree!
Similarly straddling the line between reality and fiction is the new word showmance: this refers to a romantic relationship between co-stars, but particularly one contrived for the sake of publicity. Let’s just hope the actors aren’t portraying a Mary Sue or the whole show will be a snoozefest. The term Mary Sue refers to “a type of female character who is depicted as unrealistically lacking in flaws or weaknesses”, and was used originally in fan fiction before spreading out to more general usage. The Mary Sue from which the word is derived was a character in a work of 1973 Star Trek fan fiction that parodied works featuring such characters.
Of course, some aspects of fantasy are better off staying between the pages: this is particularly true of grimdark, a word used to describe a genre of fiction “characterized by disturbing, violent, or bleak subject matter and a dystopian setting”. Such works often take place at or after TEOTWAWKI (short for “the end of the world as we know it”) and might be bleak enough that even your beta reader would like content note on it.
Though perhaps not as bleak as a grimdark novel, works of cli-fi are often still quite serious. Cli-fi refers to the genre of fiction exploring issues around climate change and global warming, and is modelled after its hypernym sci-fi.
One needn’t turn to cli-fi to find examples of unusual meteorology: both firenado and megaquake have recently been added to our dictionary to describe extreme weather events. Things have not yet, however, grown so desperate that we’ve all had to turn to seasteading – establishing permanent settlements at sea.
With the growth of concerns about the environment, we’ve seen changes to existing practices, giving rise to words like agroecology to describe the “application of ecological principles to agricultural systems”. One example of this could potentially be vertical farming, a means of growing more crops in a smaller area of land by doing so over multiple levels.
It is important that we conserve wildlife corridors – “a strip of natural habitat connecting populations of wildlife otherwise separated by cultivated land” – in order to allow wildlife access to greater areas and thus keep different types of plants and animals around for a bit longer. Denisovan is amongst those species that truly have disappeared from earth – this is the name of an extinct species of human, whose remains were discovered in 2008. The species was named after the cave where this discovery took place – the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of south-western Siberia.
Turning away from the past and looking to the future, new medical technologies like gene editing also need to be added to our dictionaries. Gene editing (also called genome editing) refers to the “manipulation of the genetic material of a living organism by deleting, replacing, or inserting a DNA sequence” with the aim of improving crops or even correcting genetic disorders.
If learning all of these new words leaves you a little weary, why not perk yourself up with a latte, perhaps even bearing illustrations? Such warming images are called latte art, and are created by carefully pouring steamed milk onto the drink’s surface. Should you desire a more refreshing, and less aesthetically pleasing, caffeine boost, perhaps you’d find an Arnold Palmer more appealing: this refers to a drink of iced tea mixed with lemonade, and is named after the late US golfer.
Also perfect for the summer – feeling magnitudes closer now that the clocks have changed – would be a lovely dish of poke. This word (pronounced poke-kay, from a Hawaiian word for “slice”) refers to a Hawaiian dish of raw fish or seafood, marinated and often served over rice. Alternatively, perhaps you’ll fancy plunging your forks into al pastor, a Mexican dish of thinly sliced pork seasoned with chillies and pineapple. The name al pastor originates in Mexican Spanish, and literally means “in the style of a shepherd”. With a name like that, perhaps you can be more confident that what you’re being served is farm-to-table cuisine!
farm to table
For those who’d rather something a bit stronger, perhaps you’d like to crack open a crowler: a large can used as a container for craft beer, typically holding two US pints, which gets its name from a blend of can and growler.