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Posts Tagged ‘Oxford English Dictionary’

Notes on Vape

November 18, 2014 | by

jonwilliamsecig

Photo: Jon Williams, via Flickr

Last night, Oxford Dictionaries announced its Word of the Year—vape—and it was hard not to feel, at first, a twinge of disappointment. After all, 2013’s Word of the Year was selfie, which was so ubiquitous, so contentious, so undeniably germane to our times, that think pieces are still being written about it a year later. Selfie was a gift from the lexical gods, a soft disyllable that contained within it the whole winding story of our evolving relationship with technology. Choosing it was almost an act of synecdoche: it stood for a massive and increasingly vexed conversation about our lives online.

But our neology isn’t always so supple; Oxford Dictionaries is on the lookout for words that “reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year,” and not every year delivers a pluperfect sign of the times. You play the hand you’re dealt. And 2014 has dealt us a lot of duds—slacktivism, budtender, bae, and normcore were on the shortlist this year, all clever and evocative as far as they go, but none of them with that era-encapsulating magic.

And none of them with the guarantee of longevity. I asked Allison Wright, an editor at Oxford University Press, what she and her colleagues look for in the Word of the Year, and she emphasized the importance of finding a word that isn’t “a flash in the pan.” Hence, she said, the ultimate appeal of vape—(v.) inhale and exhale the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device; (n.) an electronic cigarette or similar device; an act of inhaling and exhaling the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device—which promises to be around for a little while. Read More »

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Advanced Studies in Time Wasting, and Other News

November 18, 2014 | by

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Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Symposium, 1894.

  • The Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year is vape, which can function as a noun or a verb and “arose to fill a gap in our lexicon.” One can only imagine all the e-cigarette manufacturers presently scrambling to send complimentary samples to Oxford University Press’s offices.
  • At last, someone’s teaching a course at the University of Pennsylvania called “Wasting Time on the Internet.” “Although we’ll all be in the same room, our communication will happen exclusively through chat rooms and listservs, or over social media. Distraction and split attention will be mandatory. So will aimless drifting and intuitive surfing.” I’ve been auditing this class unknowingly for my entire adult life. I must owe UPenn hundreds of thousands of dollars by now.
  • Today in algorithms: a new one “automatically generates an independent ranking of notable authors for a given year.” It’s intended to help archivists learn which books in the public domain were the most popular—but it also has huge ramifications for ego massage and ego damage.
  • “He leans his right elbow on several grapefruit-size balls he has made from rubber bands people have given him during his daily circuit of social pit stops in Manhattan. He keeps hard candy in his pockets and a box of dog biscuits in the trunk, for dispensing.” This is New York’s oldest cabbie.
  • The oldest leather shoe, by comparison, has been around for 5,500 years and can be seen at a museum in Armenia.

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The Logistics of Ark-Building, and Other News

April 23, 2014 | by

Noah's_Ark_on_Mount_Ararat_by_Simon_de_Myle

Simon de Myle, Noah's Ark on the Mount Ararat, 1570

 

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Calling All Princesses, and Other News

March 17, 2014 | by

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Bell Telephones debuted the Princess phone in 1959. Image via Attitude Analyst

 

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Who Wants Flapjacks?

March 4, 2014 | by

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Photo: Janine, via Wikimedia Commons

Today is Mardi Gras, yes—the beads, the cake, the booze, the breasts. We get it. I love a Dionysian spectacle as much as the next joe, but one can take only so many years of unhinged debauchery, face paint, and galettes des Rois before the charm wears thin, even when there’s nudity involved. We need a change of pace.

Enter Shrove Tuesday, i.e., National Pancake Day, i.e., today. Picture a Mardi Gras where men lust not for nipples, but for fluffy flapjacks. The Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day has just taught me about the pancake bell, “A bell rung on Shrove Tuesday at or about eleven a.m., popularly associated with the making of pancakes.”

Imagine! A bell devoted entirely to pancakes, a bell whose mellifluous peals say to all within earshot, Abandon your post, hire a sitter, and get thee to the griddle—it is time to eat starch.

Shrove is the past tense of shrive, meaning “to hear the confession of, assign penance to, and absolve.” On the Tuesday before Lent began, the same bell that called people to confession served as a stern reminder: use your eggs, milk, and butter now, because once the day is out, we must begin ritually fasting and you are totally fucked.

Thus, everyone began to run home and whip up hotcakes; some people, rumor has it, even tried to cook the pancakes as they ran home, tossing and jogging, jogging and tossing, perhaps ladling syrup on occasion. To this day, the British town of Olney holds a pancake race (“Participants must don an apron and hat or scarf to compete. They are also required to toss the pancake three times during the 415 yard race, serve it to the bell ringer, and receive a kiss from him”) and IHOP hosts a fundraiser, though it does not, to my knowledge, involve the tolling of a pancake bell.

The OED includes an early reference to the bell, from Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemakers Holiday, which dates to 1600: “Vpon euery Shroue tuesday, at the sound of the pancake bell: my fine dapper Assyrian lads, shall clap vp their shop windows, and away. This is the day, and this day they shall doot, they shall doot.”

 

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Perfume, Pikes, and Parsing

June 15, 2012 | by

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