2005-10-08

Dictionary Needs Your Help

Frustrated dictionary compilers challenged the public yesterday 2005-10-07 to help them in finding the first usage of some of the language's most curious words and phrases. Lexicographers at 'The Oxford English Dictionary' are trying to pin down the history of a list of 50 words and phrases, such as 'boffin', 'codswallop' and 'mullet', and to provide printed evidence of their earliest usage... In association with the BBC, the world-famous English dictionary is appealing to word-hunters across the UK to investigate a list of ten words and phrases so familiar no-one can agree when they first heard them. The public have responded in their droves since the BBC show 'Balderdash & Piffle' launched their search in 2005-06. But the final ten phrases are still proving elusive.
One success pushed the earliest date for 'bomber jacket' back to 1946 from 1973 after an advertising clipping from 'The New York Times' was produced.
'Balderdash & Piffle' presenter Mr.Archie Baron said:
'"The OED" wants a complete history of the English language and they need to appeal to the public to achieve that. 'Record lyrics, film scripts, football programs, diaries and personal letters may hold the kind of evidence we are looking for. 'This is still the most accurate way; in the mid-19th century when "The OED" started up, it appealed to the English reading public to send in words to make up the dictionary. 'Our words and phrases are "The DNA" of our culture. 'As a nation we do really love words; "kids" and" teenagers" are very keen on slang and their usages, and older people may be punctilious and concerned about the rigour of language. 'We have so many words in the English language. 'People boast that we have 650_000 words in regular use compared to the French who have a tenth of that number. 'We "riff" with our language, and people are no longer snobbish about slang. 'Interest in words might be partly due to e-mail as we have moved back to a written culture, with spell check and thesaurus on-line, and blogs and so on.'
The ten words and phrases in the current search, along with the earliest known year they were used, are:
  • 'mullet' (1994),
  • 'full monty' (1985),
  • 'back to square one' (1960),
  • 'ska' (1964),
  • 'codswallop' (1963),
  • 'balti' (1984),
  • 'nite nurse' (1985),
  • 'boffin' (1941),
  • 'mackem' (1991) and
  • 'something for the weekend' (1990).
Language evolution expert Professor Ms.April Mcmahon from Edinburgh University said:
'It is interesting to look at the medium that a word first appears in. Does it crop up in advertising or in a magazine articles?
'You are never completely sure you have caught the first usage.
'There is still a lot of language which is transient and has not been collected. Sometimes the old-fashioned way of looking at menus or other sources will pick up usages which would otherwise be overlooked. 'Language makes us human and distinctive.
'The words you speak and learn and who you learn them from are a huge part of our identity.'
Information about earlier uses of the words can be submitted at www.bbc.co.uk/wordhunt or by e-mail to wordhunt@bbc.co.uk 'Search for meaning leaves the dictionary experts lost for words', Laura Roberts, The Scotsman, 2005-10-08, Sa

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