Last week’s blog post talked about some of the new words recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The OED publishes four updates a year: March, June, September, and December. The next update will be in March 2017. Five hundred new words and phrases entered the Oxford English Dictionary last quarter.
So with all these new words coming into the dictionary, are there “old” words being removed? Or is the OED growing and growing to an unmanageable size?
The historical Oxford English Dictionary is indeed ever-expanding, and does not remove words to make room for new words. However, there is a variation of the dictionary, the Concise OED, which does strive to maintain its size. In order to make room for 400 new words recently, this dictionary had to cut about 200. Maneuvering design and typeface made it possible to add 400 words while cutting only 200 and still maintaining legibility.
Here are some of the words that were axed by the Concise Oxford English Dictionary:
Growlery: a place to growl in, a private room or den
Cassette player: a machine for playing back or recording an audio cassette
Eurocommunism: a European form of communism that advocates the preservation of many elements of Western liberal democracy
Glocalization: the practice of conducting business according to both local and global considerations
Script kiddie: a person who uses existing scripts or codes to hack into computers, lacking the expertise to write their own
Threequel: the third film, book, event, etc. in a series; a second sequel
Video jockey: a person who introduces and plays music videos on television
S-VHS: super video home system, an improved version of VHS
Millennium bug: an inability in older computing software to deal correctly with dates of 1 January 2000 or later (we can see why this is no longer needed!)
What are some of the reasons for cutting words?
- cross-references or uncommon spelling variants,
- obsolete technology
- past current affairs
- slang or informal words that didn’t quite stick (note that shorter slang words fare better than longer ones.)
- words that don’t “look right” and just don’t catch on
However, all these dropped words are still in the larger and complete Oxford English Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionaries Online website.
But let’s turn our attention to the Oxford Junior Dictionary . . .
There has been some alarm about this dictionary eliminating some “nature” words and replacing them with words that deal with the solitary, technology-oriented lives of some of today’s children.
A group of authors called on the 10,000-entry children’s dictionary to reverse the decision to cut around 50 words connected with nature and replace them with words like analogue and celebrity. These words were replaced in 2007 when religious words like bishop, saint, and sin were also eliminated (with protests).
So blackberry has been replaced with broadband and and crocus with cut and paste. Other words taken out include hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox, oyster, and panther. The protesting authors pointed to the decline in play and its connection with obesity, friendlessness, and anti-social behavior.
What does Oxford say about this? They say that they need to keep up with the times. Children live in less rural environments. The dictionary reflects the language as it is currently used, taking into account the words most commonly used as well as current school curriculum.
However, many words that do not appear in the Oxford Junior Dictionary do appear in the Oxford Primary Dictionary, which is more comprehensive and intended for children up to age 11.
Getting back to the regular old Oxford English Dictionary, when does a word get added? If a particular word is used by a wide range of people to mean largely the same thing, the OED considers it part of the English language. However, sometimes the dictionary waits a while to see if a word dies out quickly or becomes part of the language. One such word was Twitter (and tweet). Although Twitter came into being in 2006, the word wasn’t added to the dictionary until 2013.
The words that are “rejected” by the OED are kept on file. If the word becomes more relevant, the OED will eventually include it. But . . .potential new words are a closely guarded secret at the OED.”