(The Blog)

And now for a few words about words (and many other things)...

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Entries in Oxford English Dictionary (3)


It's (Word) Award Season...

Well, as you can probably tell by the fact that your neighbors have had their Christmas lights up for nearly a month now, we are slowly but surely approaching the end of another year. ’Tis the season not just for getting a great deal on an Xbox at Walmart,* but for reflecting on the year gone (going) by, noting the highlights, and—particularly if you edit or write for any kind of publication, such as a blog—singling out people, places, and things in all variety of categories as “____ Of The Year.”

*Assuming you know how.

That goes for words, too—not just in terms of writing or literature, but words themselves. And just as music has the Grammys and the AMAs, film has the Oscars and the Golden Globes, and, of course, bowling has both the National Bowling Association and U.S. Bowling Congress Awards, the “Word of the Year” depends on which authority you consult.

For example, in a couple of weeks, Merriam-Webster should be announcing its assessment of the term that most captures Americans’ mood and interests this year, according to how frequently it has been looked up on merriam-webster.com (last year’s winner: “austerity”). The American Dialect Society will be putting its finalists for 2011 WOTY up for online voting in January.

But the earliest returns are in, thanks to Oxford University Press, publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary. The winning word by consensus—consensus because editors of both the British and American editions agreed, which apparently doesn’t happen too often—is really two words: “squeezed middle.” Its introduction credited to British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, the word/phrase is defined by the OED as “the section of society regarded as particularly affected by inflation, wage freezes, and cuts in public spending during a time of economic difficulty, consisting principally of those people on low or middle incomes.”

And that’s the thing about awards…from “austerity” to “squeezed middle,” they are just so feel-good.

So…what would you nominate as your favorite/most important/all-around bestest word of this year?


First appeared on Book Riot on November 28, 2011.


Feel free to "retweet" this post...

Yes, "retweet" is totally a word—so says the Oxford English Dictionary in the new, centennial 12th edition of its Concise English Dictionary, which includes some 400-plus new entries largely drawn from a pool of Internet-related slang and social networking terminology.

The "makini." The OED says it's a thing.At first I was going to ignore this story, but it has since been picked up everywhere from CNN to Rolling Stone to the Hindustan Times. It is indeed the most popular word-related story of the week. Language enthusiasts may feel either a sense of betrayal or relief at the idea that the OED has made the latest slang somehow more "official"as CBS's Tech Talk blog reported, "Writers and editors no longer have to feel guilty for using words like 'retweet' and 'sexting' in earnest."

But it's all good. The purpose of dictionaries since Samuel Johnson's time (and tome) has been to document the language as it is, not define it (only the words within). And there's nothing wrong with the opportunity to learn new words. Two of my favorites from the list of new entries are words I'd never heard (not surprising, since they're both fashion-related):

mankini: n. (pl. mankinis) a brief one-piece bathing garment for men, with a T-back.

jeggings: pl. n. tight-fitting stretch trousers for women, styled to resemble a pair of denim jeans.


Click to read more ...


What's the best word you've learned this week... or month... or year?

The English language may not have the most native speakers in the world (it's tied for second with Spanish behind—way behind—Mandarin Chinese), but it very likely has the most words. It's impossible to know for sure, but even conservative estimates, by the people responsible for the Oxford English Dictionary, put the number of English words at 250,000, not counting all the variations or, of course, non-universal slang (you know, the fun stuff):

The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries. Over half of these words are nouns, about a quarter adjectives, and about a seventh verbs; the rest is made up of exclamations, conjunctions, prepositions, suffixes, etc. And these figures don't take account of entries with senses for different word classes (such as noun and adjective).

This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections, and words from technical and regional vocabulary not covered by the OED, or words not yet added to the published dictionary, of which perhaps 20 per cent are no longer in current use. If distinct senses were counted, the total would probably approach three quarters of a million.

Considering that the more articulate among us only use about 20,000 words naturally—even Shakespeare's works contain "only" slightly more than 30,000—it's not too shocking that we might encounter a new word every day (technically, we could learn a new word or a new meaning every minute for a year and we would still have a ways to go).

In any event, the best word I read this week is "agroof"—a rare adverb that means "flat on one's face," as in, "He tried to get away, but as soon as he started running, he fell agroof." It's a bit slangy, but with etymologically legit roots back to the Old Norse á grúfu, or "face down." I love it because when I first heard the meaning, I assumed, incorrectly, that it was onomatopoeia. Isn't that what it would sound like when someone falls flat on their face? Ahhhh-groof!

Incidentally, one of my other favorite words, though I didn't just learn it, is "onomatopoeia."

What's yours?