Wednesday, 24 December 2008

OED slashed!

Now is a very good time for buying things, particularly if you've got any money: huge discounts in the department stores, special offers in the supermarkets, Woolworths selling off their stock and bargains everywhere. Even the mighty Oxford University Press reducing prices, though this is not because of the global financial crisis but to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the publication of the last fascicle of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1928.

The magnificent 20-volume printed set of the OED is now available at the special offer price of just 450 pounds sterling until 31 January 2009, or for US customers $895. This is a steal at 0.33 cents a word or 0.12 cents a meaning, but of little interest to those in the UK who have a public library ticket giving them free access at home to the online edition; this is even more of a steal. With this December's release of new and revised material the OED has passed a milestone, with a quarter of the third edition now published. Currently it contains 263,917 entries (741,153 meanings), illustrated by 2,931,547 quotations.

Among the new entries are:

ew int.
Joining a large family of imitative words expressing disgust or aversion, ew takes its place, alongside ugh, ough, auh, yah, pew, faugh, and many more, on the list of words which have attempted to tackle the age-old problem of how to represent in print what are essentially inarticulate sounds.

plus-one n.
A word of relatively unusual etymology and evocative meaning, plus-one is an invitational convention—that of indicating that a named invitee may bring one unspecified guest by following the name with the words ‘plus one’—made flesh, as a noun used to mean the extra person who attends an event or party under the auspices of these words.

podcasting n.
A very new word, for a recent phenomenon, and a great example of how technological change, especially that relating to the internet and the media, can be a driving force not only in generating new words, but in determining whether they survive and succeed. In this case the rapid adoption of podcasting (the technology) as a means of making audio material available has seen podcasting (the word) move quickly from its first tentative steps in 2004, as only one of a number of suggested names for the process, to near-ubiquity in 2008. The current OED quarterly release also includes other members of the same family: podcast as a noun and a verb, podcaster, and even the somewhat ungainly adjective podcasted.

rashomon n.
An indication of the wealth and variety of influences which are at work on the English language, as Japanese cinema gives us this word, which alludes to the method of storytelling used in Akira Kurosawa's 1951 film of this name, and is used attributively to denote things involving multiple conflicting or differing perspectives. The underlying simile is first invoked in English in the adjective Rashomon-like, which dates back to 1962, and is also included in this release of new and revised OED text.

[This last word is not yet widely used and is therefore a useful addition to the armoury of critics who like to impress with the sophistication of their vocabulary: "The new sit-com looks at life in a home for the criminally insane as it is seen by the inmates, the staff and some men repairing the roof, making it something of a rashomon de nos jours."]


eric said...

My all-time favorite OED entry, and one at least marginally suited to this season, is surely the one for the word "Putz". The more familiar (at least in the U.S.) meaning of the word is from Yiddish, in which it is used to refer both to a penis and to a stupid person (much in the way that other slang terms for 'penis' are used). However, the word is also used, in areas like eastern Pennsylvania with substantial ethnic-German populations (and perhaps in Germany itself --I have no idea) to refer to a Christmas nativity display. It is the OED's illustration of this meaning (from a 1902 New York Times Magazine story) that makes the entry so amusing:
"Only the chosen few can afford to have a really impressive 'putz' which fills half a room, and represents a landscape in miniature. This more elaborate 'putz' requires not only money for its erection, but artistic handiwork."

Tony said...

Thank you, Eric, for sharing this splendid piece of ribaldry. I bet the OED editors selected the quotation with glee.
This must be the only Yiddish word which has come to mean something special to Christians.