25 June 2015: The rise of global English, the language of gender identity, and the surprisingly long history of twerk: an Oxford English Dictionary update

Today the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) announces its latest update, ushering in nearly 500 new words and over 900 newly revised and updated words. There are also over 2400 new senses of existing words added. This confirms the OED’s place as one of the largest and longest-running language research projects in the world. 

The surprisingly long history of twerk

Sometimes words that seem new can actually have a surprisingly long history. The use of twerk to describe a type of dancing which emphasizes the performer’s posterior has its roots in the early 1990s in the New Orleans ‘bounce’ music scene, but the word itself seems to originate from more than 170 years before that.

It was in use in English as a noun by 1820 (originally spelled ‘twirk’) referring to ‘a twisting or jerking movement; a twitch’. Its use as a verb emerged a couple of decades later, in 1848, and the ‘twerk’ spelling had come about by 1901. The precise origin of the word is uncertain, but it may be a blend of twist or twitch and jerk, with influence from the noun quirk and from work (v.) in reference to the dance.

Guerrilla advertising is nothing new

The word guerrilla has become well established as the first element in compound words designating ‘activities conducted in an irregular, unorthodox, and spontaneous way, without regard to established conventions, rules, and formalities.’ This usage is first recorded from the surprisingly early date of 1888, in the phrase ‘guerrilla advertising’, but it was rare before the latter half of the 20th century. Some of the more common formations entering the OED in this update are guerrilla theatre (1966), guerrilla art (1970), guerrilla gardening (1973), and the textile-based form of street art known as guerrilla knitting (also known as yarn bombing or yarnstorming), which was in use by 2004.

The language of gender and identity

In recent decades English has expanded its vocabulary to reflect changes in the way that people relate to gender, race, and other aspects of personal identity and social classifications. The word cisgender, designating a person whose sense of personal identity corresponds to the sex and gender assigned to him or her at birth (in contrast with transgender), arose in the late 1990s. The prefix cis- derives from Latin, meaning ‘on this side of’, and typically forms words in contrast to trans, especially with reference to geographic features (e.g. cisalpine/transalpine, cisatlantic/transatlantic).

The word intersectionality originated in mathematical contexts, but since the late 1980s it has also been used to refer to ‘the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage’. Originally used primarily in academic contexts, this word has recently become common in mainstream publications as well. 

English across the world

The latest OED update sees the inclusion of a large number of words from distinct global varieties of English. From Philippines English there are new senses of common English words like gimmick to mean ‘a night out with friends’; loanwords from Spanish (like estafa ‘fraud’) and Tagalog, like barkada (‘group of friends’); and formations in English that are only used in Philippines English, like carnap (‘to steal a car’) and presidentiable (‘a person who is a likely or confirmed candidate for president’). Evidence for these usages is not just found in the Philippines itself but also in parts of the United States that have large Filipino populations.

New words from Canada include the loanwords depanneur (‘convenience store’), from Canadian French and inukshuk (‘a structure of rough stones stacked in the form of a human figure’), from Eastern Canadian Inuit. The word stagette was first used in US English to refer to a woman attending a social function without a partner, but is now most commonly used in Canada, where it refers to a party given for a woman about to be married (known elsewhere as a bachelorette party or hen night). New words from South Africa include mahala (‘for nothing, gratis’) and tenderpreneur ‘a person who uses his or her political connections to secure government contracts and tenders for personal advantage’, and South Asian English contributes words such as carcade (‘a motorcade’), multi-starrer (‘a film with an ensemble cast featuring many star performers’) and dhaba (‘a roadside food stall or restaurant’).

Don’t even go there!

Sometimes the shortest words have the longest stories to tell. The verb go has been newly revised and updated and now includes an amazing 603 senses (though that’s still 51 senses fewer than the OED’s longest entry, run).

One of the biggest growth areas in the entry during revision was the section of phrasal verbs covering particular uses of the verb with adverbs or prepositions, as to go in, to go on, and to go upTo go out is almost an entry in its own right with 32 senses; understandable when you think of the many things which can go out: tides, fires, lights, TV programmes, footballs; you might be going out with someone or maybe you are going out tonight.

The two newest senses in the entry are developments of the phrasal verbs to go on and to go up, both dating to 1995 and referring to using the Internet, web sites, or social media, as in ‘I went on Facebook’, and ‘the video went up on YouTube’. Similarly recent is the phrase don’t (even) go there!, used to warn ‘don’t talk about that, stay off that subject’, and recorded earliest in a 1993 talk show.  Going forwards, a phrase especially loved in modern business and management circles, goes backwards to 1976. 

What else is new?

Here is a small selection of other new words, subentries, and senses added to the OED in this update (for full definitions, please see OED Online):

ecotown (noun):  A new town designed to have a minimal impact on the environment and to facilitate an environmentally responsible lifestyle for its residents. [First recorded in 1974]

freegan (noun): A person who eats discarded food, typically collected from the refuse of shops or restaurants, for ethical or ecological reasons [1997]. It can also be used as an adjective.

e-cigarette (noun): A cigarette-shaped device containing a nicotine-based liquid or other substance that is vaporized and inhaled, used to simulate the experience of smoking. [2007]

voluntourism (noun): Tourism in which travellers spend time doing voluntary work on development projects, usually for a charity. [1991]

hyperlocal (adjective): Extremely or excessively local. [1900] 

meh (interjection): This interjection, expressing indifference or a lack of enthusiasm, was probably popularized by the cartoon series The Simpsons, but it was already in use online by 1992 – two years before it was used in the programme.

hot mess (noun): A hot mess referred to ‘a warm meal, especially one served to a group’ in 1818, but now it is more commonly used as a slang term for something or someone in extreme confusion or disorder. The OED’s earliest quotation for this usage dates from 1899 in the Monthly Journal of the International Association of Machinists: “Verily, I say unto you, the public is a hot mess.”

lipstick (noun): In the world of darts, this is a slang term for the treble twenty on a dartboard. [2003]

fo’ shizzle (adjective): This slang term originated in the language of rap and hip-hop and means ‘for sure’. [2001]

fratty (adjective): Of or relating to a college fraternity; typical or characteristic of such a fraternity or its members, especially with reference to rowdy behaviour. [1898] 

twitterati (noun): Users of the social networking service Twitter collectively, typically referring to the group of prolific contributors or those who have high numbers of followers. [2006]

webisode (noun): A short video, especially an instalment in a drama or comedy series, which is presented online rather than being broadcast on television. [1996]

SCOTUS (noun): (The) Supreme Court of the United States. [1879]

FLOTUS (noun): (The) First Lady of the United States. [1983]


Notes for Editors

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