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7 January 2010

A Backstabbing Bridezilla but No 3G in My Apartotel

What do the following have in common: 3G, apartotel, backstabbing, Bridezilla, glocalization and Linux. Well, they were all among the new words added to the Oxford English Dictionary during its last update.

Etymology was what attracted me to linguistics in the first place and it was a disappointment to discover that etymology is to linguistics what natural history is to science--the collection of an assortment of specimens, which, while fascinating on an individual basis, aren't necessarily particularly useful. Chaque mot a son histoire, as Gillieron put it. Nice etymological anecdotes are, however, often the most interesting part of linguistics to non-linguists, even if many of the most fascinating word histories turn out to be apocryphal, disappointingly.

As for the OED's latest release of new words, it interests me to know when what was a buzzword--or even a hapax legomenon (also known as a nonce formation)--is deemed to be enough of a part of the English language to enter the dictionary. For example, while I think of 3G as a thing of the noughties (and a word that only entered my vocabulary in the latter half of the noughties), the OED lists a 1997 quotation as the first, non-abbreviated usage of the word. Linux, on the other hand, feels like it's been around for a long time and it has--it was created in 1991; however, it has taken almost 20 years to make it into the OED. Sorry, geeks; I guess your lingo just takes longer to become accepted.

Apartotel has been around even longer and yet is only just making its dictionary début. I stayed in an apartotel (or apart'hotel, as they spelled it) near Trafalgar Square while doing my work experience in 2000 and the first quotation given in the OED is from a 1965 Observer piece, which refers to "the Apart-Hotel ‘Casa Luxor’." Still, while the concept (a hotel that offers private, apartment-style suites alongside traditional hotel services) is quite widespread these days, the term apartotel is not. As for backstabbing, come on! People have been backstabbing one another for as long as we've been people (and probably before)--indeed, the word (albeit in the hyphenated form, which I prefer) has been around since 1855.

Of the remaining words on the list, I haven't heard of some of them (a-life? Bum rap? Panga?*); others, I have heard of but wish I hadn't and certainly wish they weren't made official: glocalization, Bridezilla, and conspiratorialist, to name but a few--not that I am anywhere near as linguistically fascistic as the Académie française, of course.

And, no SoMaRo, NoMaRo, ToCoRo and all of my other wonderful, FUDGE-y and useful coinings have not yet been granted entry to the dictionary...

* a-life = "artificial life", bum rap = "a false charge or conviction," and panga = the name for various Central/South American boat.

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