From hangry to mansplain: spend a little ‘me time’ with the latest OED update
The latest update of the Oxford English Dictionary includes more than 1,100 new entries, phrases, and senses from around the alphabet, including a selection of new entries relating to the language of modern parenting. Our Head of US Dictionaries, Katherine Connor Martin, takes a closer look at some of the highlights below.
Just a decade ago, the verb mansplain did not exist, but the word and the concept (a man’s action of explaining something needlessly, overbearingly, or condescendingly, especially to a woman, in a manner thought to reveal a patronizing or chauvinistic attitude) are now an established part of English-language discourse.
The first known usages of the verb and of the related noun mansplaining are in a pair of comments on the social networking website LiveJournal in August 2008; an influential essay on the topic of ‘Men who explain things’ was published by Rebecca Solnit a few months earlier, and is often credited with popularizing the concept, but it did not use the term mansplain.
It is only in the 21st century that the word hangry, a blend of hungry and angry used colloquially to mean ‘bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger’, has entered common use. However, the earliest known evidence for the word dates from 1956, in an unusual article in the psychoanalytic journal American Imago that describes various kinds of deliberate and accidental wordplay. The author mentions hangry in a discussion of words formed by contraction or elision. Some of these, like brunch, were already established at the time, but most of them, such as criumph (a crime triumph), and sexperience (sexual experience) have still not caught on with the English-speaking public.
Me time is time devoted to doing what one wants (typically on one’s own), as opposed to working or doing things for others, considered as important in reducing stress or restoring energy. The term is first attested in the publication Helping yourself with Cosmic Healing (1980) by Unity minister Rebekah Dunlap: ‘Arrange during each day to have some “me time”.’
This is the third compound to be added to the OED’s entry for me; the other two, both dating from the late 1970s, are me decade and me generation. Whereas both of those have negative connotations, me time is generally used to suggest a healthy form of psychological self-care.
The use of snowflake as a derogatory term has become prominent on social media in recent years, but it has its roots in more positive connotations. The OED’s entry traces snowflake back to 1983 in a more affirmative sense, referring to a person, especially a child, regarded as having a unique personality and potential. The metaphor was based on the notion of every snowflake being one of a kind in appearance.
By the late 1990s, that idea of the special snowflake was established enough to be sarcastically invoked in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club: ‘You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else, and we are all part of the same compost pile.’
Over time, the term’s meaning shifted, and snowflake came be used as an insulting term for a person characterized as overly sensitive or easily offended, or as feeling entitled to special treatment or consideration. In this way, the original idea of a snowflake’s uniqueness has been displaced by allusion to its fragility.
Selfie n. has been in the OED since 2014, but the adjective selfy is now added for the first time. Selfy is rare in modern use but dates to the 17th century as a Scottish word meaning ‘self-centred’ or ‘selfish’.
In the same alphabetic range, dozens of new entries derived from self- prefix were added to the dictionary in this update, including self-published, self-deport, self-identified, self-radicalization, and self-determinism.
A new entry has been added for swag, derived from swagger, and used in slang to denote ‘bold self-assurance in style or manner’, or ‘an air of great self-confidence or superiority’. The OED’s first citation for this particular sense comes from the track ‘December 4th’ on Jay-Z’s The Black Album (2003): ‘My self-esteem went through the roof, man. I got my swag.’ This is the fifth OED citation attributed to Jay-Z.
A glossarial example of the word from the previous year, in a self-described dictionary of hip-hop terminology, defined swag as simply ‘walk’.
A Tom Swifty is a type of wordplay, a humorous sentence consisting typically of reported speech attributed to a speaker (frequently ‘Tom’), followed by an adverb which relates punningly to what has been said (for instance: ‘I like modern painting,’ said Tom abstractly).
Tom Swifties arose in the 1960s; an article in Playboy magazine in February 1963 described the format of such puns and their inspiration in the Tom Swift science fiction and adventure novels of the early 20th century, which were noted for their idiosyncratic use of adverbs:
As we slogged ‘resolutely’ through the syntactical swamp of a typically Tom Swiftian tale the other day, we found ourself thrashing about in search of fresh and more fitting dialog for the unlikely adverbs attached like barnacles to nearly every deathless utterance. ‘“How about a roll in the hay?” said Tom loftily,’ we heard ourself muttering.… To those game for the experience, we offer our hero’s classic benison: ‘Good luck and Godspeed,’ said Tom Swiftly.
1963 Playboy Feb. 19/2
The Playboy article didn’t actually use the term Tom Swifty as a name for such puns – that isn’t attested until a few months later. The concept has persisted in the intervening decades, and online compendiums list hundreds of examples of Tom Swifties. To proffer another: ‘We’ve just added more than 1,100 new items to the OED,’ said the lexicographer wordily.
Read the full OED new words update here.