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Going into the language

23 August 2011

1:46 PM

23 August 2011

1:46 PM

The Oxford English Dictionary and the Collins Dictionary have both published their new shorter versions. A crop of words has been defined and introduced, replacing those words that are now deemed
to be obsolete.

This is the age of the social network. ‘Re-tweet’ has been officially recognised by both dictionaries as a noun and a verb. It has been joined by an additional definition of
‘cougar’, a noun to describe an older women seeking sex with a much younger man, and ‘Textspeak’, a noun to describe the truncations and abbreviations that are used in text
messages, many of which have gone into the language: Lol, WTF, M8 and so forth, as well as the mock-Jamaican patois that has become so infamous in light of the recent riots. And I’m afraid that the
exploits of many of our most loved footballers will be immortalised with the formal recognition of the verb ‘to sext’, which, alarmingly, my spellchecker already acknowledges as

However tempting it is to be reactionary in the face of this assault on common speech, it’s worth recalling what the Fowler brothers said when compiling the first Concise Oxford Dictionary.
Angus Stevenson, the editor of the latest COD, reveals in a blog on the OUP’s website that the brothers said: “we admit colloquial,
facetious, slang, and vulgar expressions with freedom, merely attaching a cautionary label”. The dictionary was supposed to be organic in the sense that recognised prevailing fashions. So, in
1911, the Fowlers introduced the words ‘foozle’ (to do clumsily or make a mess off), which I believe is still in use, and ‘brabble’ (to have a noisy quarrel), which has been
omitted from the latest edition.

It’s striking how quickly terms fall out of fashion. For instance, the new Collins dictionary finds no space for ‘aerodrome’ and ‘charabanc’ – two wonderfully wholesome words that were
very common in the 1940s and ‘50s. For example, before Heathrow became Britain’s major airport in the mid-to-late ‘50s, passengers travelling to Europe would fly from Croydon and
Northolt Aerodromes. Doubtless the more functional word ‘airport’ was denounced as an Americanism when it was first introduced.

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