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Vol. 17, No. 6, 2018
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
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David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Lynda Renée
Gary Olson
Howard Richler
Oslavi Linares
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
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Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Emanuel Pordes
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Robert Fisk
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Michael Moore
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Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

the OED turns 90.



Howard Richler is a Montreal-area word nerd and author of these seven books on a variety of language themes: Dead Sea Scroll Palindromes, Take My Words, A Bawdy Language, Global Mother Tongue, Can I Have a Word With You?, Strange Bedfellows and his most recent book Wordplay: Arranged and Deranged Wit ( May 2016, Ronsdale Press, Vancouver).

What’s four score and ten yet stronger, healthier and possesses a greater vocabulary than ever? I speak, of course, about the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The OED is the supreme dictionary, not only because it is the biggest, the best, and the supreme authority. What elevates into a league of one is its breadth. It is rapacious and devours every word that has ever existed in English and this makes it the ideal archive of our language. No other language can boast about having such a complete tome.

The compilation of the First Edition of the OED began in the 1850s and was completed in 1928. Its naïve editors estimated then that the project would be finished in approximately ten years, but alas after fifteen years when editor James Murray and his colleagues had only reached as far as the word ‘ant,’ they realized it was time to revise their schedule. It was not surprising that the project was taking longer than anticipated. Not only are the complexities of the English language daunting, but like a virus, it never stops evolving. The lexicographic team had to keep track of new words and new meanings of existing words at the same time that they were trying to examine the previous eight centuries of the language’s development.

But finally, the first volume of the OED was completed in 1928 with the final section, (called a fascicle in lexicology-speak) comprising words from Wise to Wyzen. The original plan in the 1850s called for approximately 6,400 pages in four volumes, but the completion of the First Edition contained over 400,000 words and phrases in ten volumes.

In 1989, a complete Second Edition was published, consisting of the original OED amalgamated with the supplementary volumes, and together with 5,000 completely new entries. In 1993 and 1997, three volumes of Additions to the Second Edition were published.

In 2000 the OED Online was launched and the computer-based resources available to the staff who work on the OED has facilitated the data collection and in particular to record words from some of the ‘other’ Englishes such as Japanese, Indian and Singapore English.
The original estimate had the Third Edition being completed in 2010 and containing approximately 40 volumes but this timetable proved to be woefully wrong. By 2014, the new estimate for completion was 2034 and chief editor Michael Proffitt said that is was running late due to “information overload” as a plethora of data kept pouring in from computer sources.

Newly revised entries are published online every three months, giving the OED a modern, relevant tone that represents the myriad flavours of English available on the planet.

Thus does the OED proceed judiciously, amassing, modifying, defining, and it proceeds truly at ‘a snail’s-pace’ – a phrase first employed in the fifteenth century. But I assure you that over the last eighteen years there have been dramatic changes and additions to our language. The OED provides endless proof of how the ‘other Englishes,’ the ‘newer Englishes’ are changing and enhancing the language. Truth be told, there are now far more people who speak English as a second language than as their first one and therefore the vocabulary growth comes largely from the exotic locales where second language speakers dwell.

The increase in data is mind-boggling. Each editor adds new words every month and this results in about 4000 new words added per year, so since publishing online in 2000, over 75,000 words have been added to our lexicon.

Ironically, the digital era that allows dictionaries to delve deeper into our language is also the greatest threat to dictionaries, particularly those in print. For many people, the immediate answers provided by Google or Wikipedia make using a printed dictionary anachronistic. But for people who want to look beyond the surface of words, there is no substitute to the OED Online. Demographics show that the ‘new Englishes’ are becoming more important and only the OED Online is dedicated to recording words from wherever English is spoken. Also, whereas online dictionaries provide definitions of words, only the OED gives all the senses of a word. Tale the word 'run.' The OED includes 82 distinct senses of the words as a verb and 51 senses as a noun. And because revisions and additions are added every three months, this allows for always being au courant with language developments.

To give readers a sense of the new words inundating our language, I have made a list of words with accompanied definitions from A to Z that the OED has added since it went online in 2000. For each letter, I have included one word from what might be thought of as traditional English (American, Canadian, Australian, United Kingdom & Ireland) and one from the ‘new Englishes’ (Malaysian, Caribbean, South African Englishes etc.) I have also indicated in brackets when the word was added to our lexicon:

App (2001) -- A piece of software designed to perform specific functions. (Shortened form of application).
Angmoh ( 2016) -- In Singapore English, a term for light-skinned people.
Bogart (2005) -- To force, coerce or bully. It can also mean to hog something and often refers to holding a joint dangling between your lips (à la Humphrey Bogart) rather than passing it around.
Barangay (2015) -- In Philippines English, a village or suburb.
Cissexual (2015) -- Designates a person whose sense of personal identification and gender corresponds to his or hers at birth.
Cosplay (2008) -- Originally in Japan it referred to dressing up in costume as character from anime and manga; now extended to characters from video games.
Digerati (2003) -- Refers to people with proficient involvement or exceptional knowledge of information technology.
Dai pai dong ( 2016) -- In Hong Kong, a traditional licensed street stall selling cooked food at low prices.
Enviropig (2015) -- A genetically modified variety of pig that is able to digest phytic acid, producing manure with a reduced phosphorus content and hence less environmental impact.
Eve-teasing (2005) -- In India, sexual harassment of a woman, verbal or physical, by a man in a public place.
Femcee( 2012) -- Female master of ceremonies.
Funana (2017) -- In Cape Verde Islands, dance music accompanied with an accordion and ferrinho.
Gaydar (2003) -- Ability attributed especially to gay people to identify homosexual people.
Ghagra (2006) -- In parts of India, especially Rajasthan: a long full skirt or petticoat with a drawstring waist and often ornamented with bells.
Hoser (2006) -- In Canadian English, a stupid, unsophisticated loutish person.
Hongbao (2016) -- A traditional Chinese good luck gift of money.
Iron woman( 2013) -- A woman who is hardy, robust, or capable of great endurance; now specifically a powerful female athlete, especially one who excels in endurance events.
Inukshuk (2015) -- A structure of rough stones stacked in the form of a human figure, traditionally used by the Inuit as a landmark or commemorative sign, or to drive caribou toward hunters.
Junkball (2016) -- In baseball, a pitch that relies on movement rather than speed, such as a breaking ball or knuckleball.
Juku (2004) -- In Japan, an educational system based on a European and U.S. model of progressive education, which works within the framework of private schools and provides a variety of practical and vocational skills taught in addition to a Western-style core curriculum.
Krump (2016) -- A form of street dance that originated in Los Angeles that is usually performed to hip hop music.
Khimar (2010) -- A head covering or veil worn in public by some Muslim women, specifically one of a type covering the head, neck, and shoulders.
Listicle (2006) -- A journalistic article or other piece of writing, presented wholly or partly in the form of a lists. This term is often used in a pejorative manner.
Lepak (2016) -- In Malaysian and Singapore English, to loiter aimlessly or idly; to loaf, relax, hang out.
Moobs (2006) -- Unusually prominent breasts on a man.
Matutu (2001) -- In Kenya, an unlicensed taxi or minibus.
Nobbins (2003) -- British slang for money.
Nam Prik (2003) -- A paste or sauce made with chilli and shrimp, widely used in Thai cookery as a condiment or dipping sauce.
Oxycontin (2005) -- Proprietary name of the analgesic drug oxycodone.
Oyakata (2005) -- In Japan: a master, a boss; and in sumo wrestling, it refers to the master of a wrestling stable.
Phat (2001) -- Especially among Afro-Americans, it refers to a woman who is sexy and attractive and in music it denotes excellence.
Prepone (2001) -- In Indian English, to bring forward to an earlier time; the opposite of postpone.
Queercore (2003) -- A type of aggressive rock music that was derived from punk music and characterized by lyrics that deal with homosexual themes and issues.
Qawwali (2002) -- A style of Muslim devotional music, now associated particularly with Sufis in Pakistan, characterized by a fervent, often improvisatory vocal delivery, accompanied on drums and harmonium.
Retweet (2015) -- OnTwitter, an act or instance of posting a message, image, link etc., originally posted by another user. (Tweet, {not the bird sense} was added in 2013).
Roko (2010) -- In India, a protest in which road or rail traffic is disrupted by a large group of demonstrators.
Sext (2015) -- A sexually explicit or suggestive message or image sent electronically, typically using a mobile phone.(Not to be confused this the nicer sext: One of the daily offices, or canonical hours of prayer and worship, of the Western Church, traditionally said (or chanted) at the sixth hour of the day (about midday).
Sabo (2016) -- In Singapore English, to harm, inconvenience, make trouble. Shortened form of sabotage.
Twerk (2015) -- A sexually provocative dance involving thrusting movement of the butt and hips in a low squatting position.
Teh tarik (2016)-- In Malaysian English and Singapore English, sweet tea with milk, prepared by pouring the liquid back and forth repeatedly between two containers so as to produce a thick foam on top.
Unsub (2016) -- In law enforcement: a person of unknown identity who is the subject of a criminal investigation.
Udyog (2017)-- In Indian English, a company or commercial enterprise, especially one involved in manufacturing.
Vaping (2015) -- The action or practice of inhaling and exhaling the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device.
Videshi (2007) -- In India: foreign; coming from a country other than India.
Weblog (2003) -- A file containing a detailed record of each request received by a web server, frequently recording data that allows a variety of different aspects of the web traffic reaching that server to be analysed. Before long, this term was shortened to blog.
Wakizashi (2007) -- A type of samurai sword.
Xeriscape (2008) -- To landscape an area in such a way as to minimize its need for irrigation, especially by using plants and features suited to a dry climate.
Xoloitzcuintli (2012) -- The Mexican hairless dog. (Often shortened to xolo).
Yada yada (2006) -- Indicating, usually dismissively, that further details are predictable or evident from what has preceded.
Yumcha (2016)-- In Chinese contexts: a meal eaten in the morning or early afternoon, typically consisting of dim sum and hot tea.
Zeppelining (2014) -- Moving in a manner of a Zeppelin(type of airship); to soar.
Zama zama (2015)-- In South Africa, a person who works illegally in abandoned mine-shafts in order to retrieve metals, minerals, etc.

Happy 90th OED.


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