Word Nerd: The universe and English are expanding, fo’ shizzle

The Infinius S opto-mechanical star projector in the Milky Way Theatre of the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium. (Photo by Hayley Juhl)

Please refrain from sexting while twerking. While it might be hyphy, fo’ shizzle it is both jank and meh.

All the italicized words are recent additions to the OED, which in June 2015 added almost 1000 new terms to our language.

While in the past, the OED’s policy was to include neologisms only after they were firmly entrenched in our language, many of the additions such as twerk and sext demonstrate that the times they are a changin’.

Perhaps a little translation is in order for less hip readers. Sexting refers to the sending of sexually explicit pictures electronically and twerking is dancing in a provocative manner by thrusting motions of the gluteus maximus and the hip. Hyphy means energetic, fo’ shizzle comes from the lexicon of hip-hop music and is a variant of “for sure” whereas jank is a variant of junk, meaning inferior, and meh means uninspiring or mediocre.

I was surprised to discover that twerk had been added because, as a rule, the OED usually only adds a word if it has enjoyed popular use for at least ten years. I associate the word with Miley Cyrus’ gyrating motions at the 2013 MTV awards show and it seemed to me that use of the term abated dramatically by 2014. In fact, the OED discovered that folks have been twerking for the better part of two centuries, but not necessarily in the lascivious Cyrus mode. In 1820, the word was first used as a noun to refer to a twisting motion, as the word is a blend of twist or twitch with jerk, and by 1850 the verb form of the word emerged.

Twenty years ago it seemed unfathomable that we would soon be changing the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples and the OED reflects this revolution in our thinking about gender classification. For example, the OED made me aware of my personal sexual identification: cisgender. It is defined as “designating someone whose sense of personal identity corresponds to the sex and gender assigned to him at birth.” The prefix cis– means “on the side of” and the term cisgender contrasts with transgender.

Last year in my Word Nerd column I pointed out that many familiar Canadianisms are finally getting OED recognition. This process was continued in the recent additions as these aspects of Canadiana enhance the ever-growing Canadian content of the OED. Dépanneur (convenience store), inukshuk, (a structure of rough stone used by Inuit
hunters as a landmark), mangia-cake, (among Italian Canadians, a term for non-Italians), double double (a cup of coffee with a double serving of both cream and sugar). Resto-bar (combined restaurant and bar) was also added and although the term is not exclusive to Canada, the OED’s first citation comes from the Montreal Gazette in 1992.

The OED additions also highlight how quickly words can acquire new meanings and proliferate. An example is guerrilla, which traditionally only designated a paramilitary combatant.

The OED explains that since the end of the 20th century it often is used to include “activities conducted in an irregular, unorthodox, and spontaneous way, without regard to established conventions, rules and formalities.” So in this category we find guerilla advertising, guerilla art, guerilla gardening, guerilla knitting, guerilla marketing and guerilla theatre, to name but a few of the guerilla flavours. Amazingly, there is a citation for guerilla advertising in 1888. Some futuristic soul thought of this structure 80 years before anybody else thought to extend the guerilla metaphor.

Also, new meanings have been added to these words: Kill means do something impressively; lipstick
means the treble 20 on a dartboard;
chatter means electronic communi-
cation monitored by intelligence agencies to combat terrorism;
double-dip references two periods of economic decline.

An economic diet is included in the new entries. I refer to freegan, defined as the “practice of eating discarded food typically collected from the refuse of shops or restaurants for ethical or ecological reasons.” My favourite new diet word was added to the OED in June 2014. Flexitarian is defined as “a person who follows a primary but not strictly vegetarian diet.” I prefer to define it as a vegetarian who once a year cheats and enjoys a smoked meat sandwich.

Richler’s book Wordplay: Arranged & Deranged Wit was published in May.

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