Brave New English

Cookie Monster from Sesame Street boards airplane with suitcase, 8-13-03 AP

Are you feeling like a "muppet" because you cannot remember the meaning of a word? Or are you a bit "Eeyorish" and confused at our rapidly changing language?

Those are among 3,000 new words and expressions, many of them slang or foreign, that have entered English usage and are included in the new edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English, which is being released Thursday.

"Muppet," taken from the children's TV show, "Sesame Street," means a foolish person, while "Eeyorish" refers to the character in Winnie the Pooh known for his gloomy outlook on life.

Unsurprisingly, many new entries come from the world of science and high-tech, particularly genetics and the Internet. Thus "blog" (short for Web log), and "egosurfing" (searching the Internet for references to oneself) are joined in the dictionary by more unusual phrases such as "shotgun cloning" (the insertion of random fragments of DNA).

New words included in the dictionary often reflect trends and the changing cultural makeup of the United Kingdom.

Britain's multiethnic population has had a great influence on the new edition, with many words included from Chinese, Yiddish and Indian languages. "Chacha" is a Hindi word for uncle, "doudou" is a West Indian term of endearment, "sic bo" is a Chinese game of dice, and "bashert" is a yiddish word for fate.

The U.S. influence is evident in "bada bing," the name of Tony Soprano's strip-joint in the hit HBO show "The Sopranos." The phrase is defined as "an effortless act."

The term "24/7" has officially entered common usage in the United Kingdom, as have "nerd," "geek," and "bad-hair day."

The more unpleasant side of modern life pops up with "counterterrorism," "dirty bomb," and "mission creep" all included in the dictionary.

On a lighter note, words from office life often crop up. "Prairie-dogging" is a term describing workers in cubicles who raise their heads above the partitions surrounding their desks to see what is going on.

These changes are gleaned from a range of sources such as comics, newspapers, TV scripts, novels, the Internet, and scholarly journals, as well as the British National Corpus database, which contains over 100 million words.

The Oxford University Press also publishes the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary, which sells for $2,862 and is considered the benchmark for the language.


By Jack Garland
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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