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Neologisms in dictionaries

Barbara McClintock
(Language Update, Volume 10, Number 1, 2013, page 11)

The maniacal laugh of a comic book villain, mwahahaha, may well be the strangest new entry in the Oxford online dictionary, which announced its selection of neologisms in August 2012. The new additions include date night, dirty martini, guilty pleasure, video chat, vote someone/thing off the island and Wikipedian.1 The centenary 12th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (2011) contains some 400 new entries, including cyberbullying, domestic goddess, gastric band, hackathon, lolz, micropig, photobomb, sexting, slow food, textspeak and upcycle.2 For its part, the 2012 Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary has 100 new additions, including game changer3 (my word of the year for 2011), gastropub (a pub or bar that offers high-quality meals) and mash-up (something created by combining elements from two or more sources, such as a Web service or application that integrates data and functionalities).

The Word Geek’s top picks

The Word Geek’s word of the year for 2012 is the whimsical bucket list, a list of things you want to do before you “kick the bucket.” TERMIUM Plus®’s proposed translation is liste du cœur, which I prefer to the lengthy liste de choses à faire et à voir (avant de mourir). Since I first heard of the film The Bucket List (Maintenant ou jamais in Quebec), I have been musing about what to put on my own list.

My runners-up for 2012 are aha moment (a flash of inspiration), brain cramp (temporary mental confusion), flexitarian (a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat or fish), shovel-ready (ready for the start of work) and tipping point (the critical point in a situation).4

New Quebec terminology: street food

A by-law passed in 1947 by Mayor Camilien Houde and then strictly enforced by Mayor Jean Drapeau that bans the sale of food on Montréal streets is very frustrating for the owners of mobile eateries, such as mobile canteens (cantine mobile in French). In 2011, to address the surge in popularity of street food in the province, the Office québécois de la langue française proposed cuisine nomade as an acceptable translation, with the alternate terms cuisine de rue and cuisine itinérante in its online dictionary (the GDT). Bon appétit!

Disappearing apostrophes

British author Henry Hitchings contends that branding, printing and design people are not enamoured of apostrophes, so you don’t often see them in brand names or on signs.5 They are commonly misused and are disappearing in favour of a “sparer and more businesslike” punctuation, according to Hitchings. In his Huffington Post article entitled Is it Curtains for the Apostrophe?,6 Hitchings points out that most apostrophes were removed from American maps by the Board of Geographic Names and only five US place names still have them, including Martha’s Vineyard.

Traditionally in English, the name of a family-owned business took an apostrophe, to indicate the possessive, e.g. Eaton’s and Simpson’s, which were Canada’s two largest department stores in their heyday. They changed their names to Eatons and Simpsons in the 1970s. US retail giant J.C. Penney used to be called Penney’s. One hundred-year-old L.L. Bean seems to have always had the same name, whereas Macy’s still has the apostrophe. In the UK, the majority of department stores do not use a possessive form in their names, e.g. Selfridges, founded by American-born retail magnate Harry Gordon Selfridge, Debenhams, Fortnum & Mason, Harrods, and Marks and Spencer. Fast food giant McDonald’s uses the possessive form (McDonald’s Restaurants), as does the famous Maxim’s de Paris, even though the possessive “s” does not exist in French. Go figure! 

Notes and references

  • Back to the note1 “Hella ridic new words to make you lolz: ODO August 2012 update,” OxfordWords blog,
  • Back to the note2 “A century of defining our language,” OxfordWords blog,
  • Back to the note3 Ben Zimmer, “When New Words Reach a Tipping Point, It Can Be a Game Changer,”, August 14, 2012,
  • Back to the note4 Ibid.
  • Back to the note5 Babel podcast on CBC Radio with Mariel Borelli, episode 7: Punctuation, 2012.
  • Back to the note6 The Huffington Post, November 1, 2011,