New OED Words III
Bill Long 9/11/08
Finishing the List
I mentioned in the first of these three essays that I am only providing a sample of the new words appearing in the OED this year. A few, mostly amusing, additions which I don't have time to discuss are blankie (yep, one of the few words in the OED coined by a kid...in 1921); pre-boarding (which we all have heard now in countless airports); virtualize (the verb which creates new realities); chill pill (one of my daughter's favorites about a decade ago); ta-da (no explanation needed) and wiki (web page edited by anyone). But here I will mention hellzapoppin', subprime, emo, dromaeosaurid, and amigurumi.
1. The word subprime has made it into all of our vocabularies in the last year as synonymous with "risky loan," but as the OED editors point out, the word actually goes back to the 1970s, where it meant just the opposite. Here is what they say:
"The familiar current sense is attested only from 1993, but as early as 1976, subprime was being used to describe an especially desirable type of loan, one which charged less than the prime rate of interest and was offered only to the most reliable commercial borrowers. That meaning is now rare, and in the new sense which has replaced it, it is not the interest rate of the loan which is "less than prime", but the rating of the borrowers themselves."
How times change the linguistic reach of a word (see my discussion of ecopolitics in the previous essay)!
2. We have two terms: dromaeosaurid and dromaeosaurus, both of which seem to be new to the OED though they have been around since the 1970s. But the dinosaurs they describe have, of course, been long extinct. I love the Greek root behind the name: dromaios means "running at full speed" and saurus means "lizard." Sure enough, the pictures that are available of this guy show him (or her) running at full speed with mouth open, ready to devour its prey. But how do we know what this thing looked like or whether it ran in this way? Normally we have pieces of jawbones or other parts of the body and about 98% of the creature has to be "imagined" and then "recreated." The OED, however, defines one as "a dinosaur of the theropod family Dromaeosauridae, of the Cretaceous period, which comprised bipedal predators with forelimbs capable of graspoing and a distinctive large recurved claw on its second toe." Sounds like "The Claw" from a Get Smart episode...In any case, these creatures may or may not have looked exactly as portrayed. They sure enter into the child's (and adult's) imagination, however, and we can "play" with the image a great deal.
3. If you mention "emo" in Oregon, people immediately think of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, but the new word emo is quite different. Actually, emo, coined in 1993, is a shortened form of emo-core, which itself is an abbreviated form of emotional hardcore, and is "a style of popular music originating in the US in the mid 1980s, derived from hardcore punk music and characterized by emotional, usually introspective lyrics." The emo-core subculture were people assocated with this music. This article tells us more: that it was an offshoot of the "hardcore" music scene, that its songs often had deeply emotional lyrics and more melodic music than "hardcore."
"Emocore performances were intense, often bordering on catharsis, with performers and audience members often driven to the point of tears during shows."
Which were some of the leading bands playing emo/emocore music? "Embrace, Moss Icon, Soulside, Ignition, and Grey Matter." The movement remained fairly "underground" until the mid-1990s (hence the first "attested" appearance of the word emo-core in 1992 and emo in 1993). I don't really know what has become of these folk since the late 1990s, as many of its performers went "mainstream" and the meaning of emo seemed to lose its precision. Thus, it may be a term that "fell" just as the OED included it. Irony of ironies.
4. Hellzapoppin' is not a term I have ever used, even though have no principled opposition to it. It means "hectic, chaotic; extremely eventful, action-packed, exciting." The OED's attestations only have it going back to 1945: "The Detroits floundered hilariously into the world championship in seven hellzapoppin' games." But the OED in its explanatory word section goes into much more detail--detail which is worth quoting:
"Soon after the release of the 1941 film musical Hellzapoppin', based on a 1938 theatre production Hellzapoppin (contemporary promotional material for the theatre version seems to prefer no apostrophe at the end, while most posters for the movie include one), this adjective appears on the scene, used to mean ‘action-packed’ or ‘ostentatious’. However the writers (or promoters) of the musical did not pluck this eye-catching title from nowhere, although the inclusion of a ‘z’ does appear to be their innovation; we have found a long line of evidence back to 1875 for the phrase ‘hell's a-popping’, used as a rough equivalent to ‘all hell is breaking loose.'"
5. Let's conclude with amigurumi. Funny, I wrote this word down from someplace, but it doesn't appear in the OED, or at least in my online version of the dictionary. But it definitely is a new word. Well, there is a Wikipedia article on it, which will get us going. It is not to be confused with origami, which is the ancient Japanese art of paper folding. In fact, it is the Japanese art of knitting "cutesy" small furry animals, like cats, dogs or rabbits. I am sure you could take an amigurumi class in a number of places in this great nation and, for those folk, this word is so familiar as to leave them surprised that it has only recently come into English "officially." Here is a typical website promoting amigurumi, called the "Amigurumi Kingdom." You can tell, from the pink background, to the gently flowing flowers to the utterly cute little stuffed animal at the bottom of the page (what is it, anyway?) that "cute" is the operative word, indeed. It is the place "where cupcake bears rule and little creatures are glued to their ipods.."
Conclusion--A Bonus Word
Because you have been so good in following through all these words, I will close with a "bonus" word for you--a word that reminds me of Oxford--subfusc. Something that is fuscous is brown or brown tinged with grey. Subfusc carries the same meaning. The OED defines it "of dusky, dull, or sombre hue, esp. of clothing." A subfusc also is a garment worn to final examinations and other functions at formal Oxford and Cambridge. Here is a picture of students wearing their "goofy" subfuscs. I rather prefer the literary use of the term, however. Its first attestation in English, from the 17th century, is from this poem:
"O'er whose quiescent walls
Arachne's unmolested care has drawn
This means, of course, that there are spider webs crawling on the walls, but isn't this a more arresting way of saying it? Or, figuratively, CP Snow could write, in 1949: "Allen...made subfusc, malicious, aunt-like jokes at Getliffe's expense." This word has real possibilities...
Let that be enough to introduce you to new OED words. Good luck on your searches, too.