Squee, gender-fluid and moobs have been added to the OED. How do the experts decide which words deserve to be included? And what might be added next year?
Squee! The latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is out, with 1,200 new words and 1,000 revised entries for us to geek out about. Squee â€“ an exclamation expressing delight or excitement â€“ has made the list, along with Yolo (an acronym for â€˜you only live onceâ€™), moobs, gender-fluid, uptalk (a manner of speaking in which declarative sentences are uttered with rising intonation at the end) and Westminster bubble.
Who picks the new additions? Is a crack team of caped wordsmiths holed up in a bunker in deepest Oxfordshire, spending day and night on the scent of words before eventually alighting on the contemporary relevance of â€¦ cheeseball (also in the 2016 list, defined as â€˜someone or something lacking taste, style, or originality; or more prosaically, the breaded and deep fried cheese appetiserâ€™)? â€œIt might seem romantic,â€ says Jonathan Dent, senior assistant editor in the OEDâ€™s new words team, â€œbut itâ€™s a lot of standard research, checks and balances. Anything new that goes into the dictionary is drafted and researched by us. Itâ€™s all down to evidence.â€
The 15-strong new words team â€“ out of a staff of 70 at the OED â€“ work year round tracking words in corpuses â€“ electronic text collections containing billions of words â€“ and analysing online databases, as well as material submitted by the public through reading programmes. â€œWe are always tracking new words that arrive in the language and start to be picked up widely,â€ Dent tells me. â€œOED traditionally waits for 10 years of evidence before we add a word but there are exceptions such as livermorium, a chemical element, in this update, which has only been around since 2012. At the same time the wider project of revising the whole text of the dictionary continues.â€
The updates are achieved through a fine balance of human endeavour and technology, a system introduced in 2000 when the OED went online. But in 1884, when the very first edition started publication it was a different story. â€œIt took around 50 years for them to finish the first run,â€ Dent explains. â€œThat was mainly done through the public reading books and submitting quotations on paper. As soon as it was finished in 1928 they had a whole extra volumeâ€™s worth of new words.â€
In the latest list, Dent has observed â€œnotable word clustersâ€ around shopping and slacktivism (people supporting political or social causes online but actually taking no further action). As for Brexit (and Grexit), â€œentries are being prepared for publication, and will very probably appear before the end of this yearâ€.
What are his favourite new words? â€œI try to avoid getting passionate about particular words because we have to treat each of them equally and give them a fair chance,â€ he replies, sounding like a father asked to name a favourite child. But he does concede that with 2016 marking Roald Dahlâ€™s centenary, he has found researching Dahlesque (also on the list) words interesting. â€œLike Oompa Loompa, added because of how often it is used to refer to someone with a perma-tan. And the witching hour, from The BFG, which we traced back to the 18th century.â€ What about vermicious knids, the shape-shifting aliens? â€œI mention them in my notes but thankfully they havenâ€™t escaped the Dahl universe yet,â€ Dent replies sternly. â€œWe should all be worried if they do.â€
Hereâ€™s our predictions for next yearâ€™s new words â€¦
A collective malaise suffered by millions in the UK after Britain voted to leave the EU. Symptoms include denial, fear, an inability to trust anyone in power or opposition, intolerance, and a propensity to apply for an Irish passport or EU citizenship. See also â€˜regrexitâ€™.
Avocados artfully applied to toast; the favoured brunch of Instagrammers. Now controversial as the global appetite for the green hipster fruit is indirectly fuelling illegal deforestation in Mexico and crime in New Zealand.
A member of the Labour party who supports leader Jeremy Corbyn. Initially viewed as a person who stands for pure socialist, anti-Blairite values, now deployed only as a term of abuse.
Going out to play PokÃ©mon Go, or accompanying children doing so. Pitfalls of PokÃ©moning include bumping into obstacles, the constant need to recharge your phone and the tedium of always, always catching Pidgeys.
The personality-fuelled politics of Donald Trump, often used to denote extreme rightwing, narcissistic, anti-immigrant views and overt patriotism.
ByÂ Chitra Ramaswamy