Tag: dictionary

Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler

Friday, 26 October, 2018

“When was a word first used in print? You may be surprised! Enter a date below to see the words first recorded on that year.” So heralds the Merriam-Webster dictionary its new Time Traveler service.

I was born the same year as agribusiness, big bang theory, consultancy, DIY, exurbia, free agent, gangbusters, hidden agenda, information science, juicehead, kegger… Why stop at “k”? Well that word kegger, “a party featuring one or more kegs of beer,” is worth a look. Surprisingly, in Merriam-Webster’s list of eight example sentences featuring the word, there is no mention of “Kavanaugh”. And that is startling because “kegger” was one of the main words used in the demonization of Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his nomination to the US Supreme Court. Here’s a Roll Call headline from 5 October: “Protesters Throw ‘Kegger’ at Mitch McConnell’s House Ahead of Kavanaugh Vote.”

Anyway, Time Traveler is an entertaining and informative tool for the word sleuth and, particularly, for the teacher of English needing an extra activity to keep learners busy.

*An important note on First Known Use dates: “The date most often does not mark the very first time that the word was used in English. Many words were in spoken use for decades or even longer before they passed into the written language. The date is for the earliest written or printed use that the editors have been able to discover.”


Words: selfie and dronie

Wednesday, 4 November, 2015 0 Comments

The word “selfie” was first used in September 2002, in a forum posting on the website of the Australian public broadcaster ABC:

“Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps,” said the poster, student who called himself Hopey. “I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

No surprise, of course, when one considers other Australian diminutives: “barbie” for barbecue and “firie” for firefighter. It was the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2013. Definition: “informal noun (plural: selfies), a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

Speaking of selfies and their place of etymological origin, here’s a cautionary tale: a woman who posted one with the barcode on her Melbourne Cup ticket had her $825 winnings stolen. In happier news from the neighbourhood, All Black rugby star Sonny Bill Williams took an Oscar-inspired selfie. BTW, if you need some selfie esteem, Andrej Karpathy has written an algorithm to rate the results.

Last year, the noun “dronie” entered the vernacular. It’s “a video self-portrait taken by a self-controlled drone” and Vimeo employee Alex Dao is credited with coining the word in response to this excellent video posted by Amit Gupta.

Meanwhile, Alex Chacon, the creator of the around-the-world epic selfie video has made an epic “dronie” of his latest adventure in Mexico.

Finally, “Dronestaventure” was made by Michael Lopp using a DJI Phantom 3 Standard. The music is Buzzin’ by the Canadian DJ, producer and graphic designer Edmond Huszar, better known by his stage name OVERWERK.

This year’s Word of the Year? In our age of emoji, either # or ♥.


hiybbprqag, moledro, kairosclerosis, sonder

Wednesday, 27 November, 2013 0 Comments

“An original lexicon of emotions we don’t have words for,” is what John Koenig calls his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Take, for example, his noun trumspringa, which means “the temptation to step off your career track and become a shepherd in the mountains, following your flock between pastures with a sheepdog and a rifle, watching storms at dusk from the doorway of a small cabin, just the kind of hypnotic diversion that allows your thoughts to make a break for it and wander back to their cubicles in the city.” And then there’s sonder, “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”

Those who know their German will be aware that the prefix sonder means “special”, so it’s nice to see John Koenig porting it over to English and giving it a new twist. This lexical traffic flows both ways, of course, and the English adjective that means “very useful or helpful” has been reinterpreted by German as its word for mobile phone.


Macmillan Dictionary: “exiting print is a moment of liberation”

Friday, 23 November, 2012 0 Comments

Back at the beginning of this month, the Macmillan publishing company announced that it would no longer make paper dictionaries. In a blog post titled Stop the presses — the end of the printed dictionary, Michael Rundell, the editor-in-chief of the famed Macmillan Dictionary, made the case thus: “Thirty years ago, the arrival of corpus […]

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