Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Democratising the dictionary

The return of BBC2's Balderdash & Piffle later this year is featured in many newspapers today, with much of the focus being on the ways in which the programme is seeking the public's information on the first appearance of particular words and phrases such as “dogging”, “kinky”, “the dog’s bollocks” and “tosser”.

While, most of us are fully aware of what these words mean – and use the last one on an almost daily basis when faced with missed homework deadlines from English Language classes – the OED is keen to find out if the public can supply earlier citations of the words in print than those they already have. So, according to the OED, the earliest appearance in print of the word “hoodie” was in Roddie Doyle’s The Snapper in 1990, but if you know that you saw it in an edition of the NME, Smash Hits or The Source two years before that, you can help them out.

And it’s important that such work is opened up to the public in this way, I think, as it democratises our language use and gets us away from any ideas that language change is a bad thing or a trickle-down from those experts and authorities above us on the social ladder. As John Simpson of the OED points out in todays’ Independent, this approach has been used since the 1800s: “"It's great that the long-established democratic traditions of the dictionary are continuing. Our first public appeal went out in 1859 and we've been busy collecting information every since. We've selected 40 words that are puzzling the OED's editors for the new wordhunt and we're hoping for some more great results."

The story is also covered in The Times and Daily Mirror, with the Balderdash & Piffle site here, and the OED’s Wordhunt site here.

Useful for:
ENA5 – Language Change

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