The World's Biggest Word Book Grows Again

Anyhoo... The latest additions to the Oxford English Dictionary are a mixed bag. Many of us welcome autumn for bringing...

Anyhoo... The latest additions to the Oxford English Dictionary are a mixed bag.

Many of us welcome autumn for bringing gorgeous weather, Octoberfest beers, and the merciful resumption of football.

But for a small number of your fellow citizens, fall brings another blessed event, one that is no less heaven-sent because it occurs every season: the Oxford English Dictionary online hauls out a host of new entries, as the largest word book in the world gets even larger.

As always, the additions are a mixed bag, a bag commodious enough to include words diverse as "dot-org," "globalist," "hand relief," "red state," "three-way," and "unmixed blessing," plus many others, along with a beefing up of major entries such as "clone," "drug," and "thought."

The OED-started in 1857 and digitally updated since 2000-is a historical dictionary, which means it includes example sentences over a wide period of time. This makes it so much more useful than most other word books, since you can actually see the word in action. It's like learning about frogs by watching them hop around a pond instead of dead on a desk in high school bio class.

So please enjoy this sample platter of linguistic nuggets and lexical enchiladas from the latest revisions, which are only a week old. As always, these facts should dazzle that English grad student you've been drooling over in the coffee shop, and maybe they'll even invite you over for a cozy night of citing on the couch.

• Twitter is on everyone's mind and handheld device these days, but the word "twitterpated" has zip to do with it, and its recent entry is a coincidence. Two meanings-"Love-struck, besotted. Also: thrilled, excited; obsessed" and "Foolish, silly; flighty, scatterbrained"-date from the 1940's, launched by the 1942 Bambi movie.

• Who says having your nose in a digital library all day can't lead to a greater appreciation for nature? Since the additions also covered extensive revisions from "red" to "refulgent," subentries were added for the red-kneed tarantula, red-chested cuckoo, red-backed salamander, red-legged locust, red-lipped snake, and red-rumped parakeet. In related news, the red-handed howler monkey is now on my list of awesomely named animals that are a little impolite, along with the goliath bird-eating spider, naked mole rat, and giant spitting earthworm.

• My rare-word itch was well-scratched by "thinking mug"-a term labeled slang, obscure, and rare-for the head, with only one recorded use in 1849: "Bout four years ago, it came into my thinking mug that there must be plenty of gold in the bed of Coosa creek."

• The recency illusion, as coined by University of Stanford linguist Arnold Zwicky, is the tendency to think "Whoa, that's new to me. It must be new to the world!" I had a little bout of the recency illusion with the word "thoughty," which has meant "thoughtful" for centuries, as here in 1702: "A minister should be a very thoughty man." This is similar to how 19th-century uses of "truthiness" meant truthful, as opposed to today's Colbertian truthiness, which encompasses many types of BS such as "globaloney," another new entry. That one goes back to 1943: "Much of what Mr. Wallace calls his global thinking is, no matter how you slice it, still ‘globaloney'."

• Regular readers know I'm entranced by suffix mayhem, such as the promiscuous ways of "-gate" and "-istan." So I was happy to see the suffix "-think"-as in groupthink and doublethink-get its own entry. A 1984 quote has my favorite example ("This is yet another example of ninny-think.") though I hope to someday be known as the founder and seminal contributor to doofus-think.

• You're probably familiar with the common sense of "batsh*t," even if batsh*t insanity doesn't flow through the branches of your family tree (not that I would know anything about that). But an almost opposite meaning exists in Australia, perhaps due to blander bat diets: "My personal life is the same as anyone else's and it's as boring as batsh*t to read about."

• Of course, capturing the world in words isn't all red-handed monkeys and thoughty twitterpations: ugly reality intrudes, this time in the form of the mega-successful word "waterboarding." The first known use is as recent as 2004; minus the "ing," the term is older: "Upon capture the ‘POWs' are roughed up and given their first taste of the dread water board: they are strapped head down onto an inclined board, with a towel placed over their faces and cold water poured onto it. They choke, gag, retch and gurgle" (1976).

• Also dating from 1976 is the basketball and general-purpose insult "in your face!" Speaking of faces, the first face-plant was probably done by a clumsy cave-dude, but we've only been talking about "doing a face plant" since the eighties.

• "Anyhoo" is a word I enjoy using, and it turns out I'm using it "right," which to dictionary-makers just means in the most common way: "used (humorously) to indicate a change of topic, or a return to a previous topic after a digression." I was surprised to learn that it was originally a regional pronunciation of "anyhow" and disappointed to learn that variations "anyhoozle" and "anyhoodle" didn't make the cut (yet).

Anyhoo, I could go on till 2012, or even the apocalypse after that: there's no end to this stuff. People sometimes wonder if I feel bad not knowing another language, and I don't. I feel like I barely know one language. The OED will give you that feeling, in the best way possible.

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