Christmas Dinner

O, how I have complained over “DINNER” in the Oxford English Dictionary [see “Oxford English Dinner“]. The close of 2021 brought an early Christmas surprise: a new, fully revised entry. And it’s not just any revision, but one of those with an extended lexicological and sociohistorical note. The first main definition now says:

1. Originally: the first large meal of the day, typically eaten in the late morning. Later: the main meal of the day, taken either around midday or in the evening. […]

The time and nature of dinner varies according to history, geography, and social factors. In its early history, it was the middle of three daily meals (breakfast, dinner, and supper), whether constituting the main meal or not. The progression from being defined by the time at which it is eaten to being viewed as the main meal of the day, whose time can vary, appears to occur over the course of the 18th and early 19th centuries: for example, John Kersey’s New Eng. Dict. (1702) defines dinner simply as ‘meal at noon’, Read More


Nae Mair for the Nonce?

Growlsome, guzzledom, panfrivolium – Oxford English Dictionary #OED doing away with “nonce-words” | Nae Mair for the Nonce? | The Life of Words


OED “Transgender” Update Update

In my last post [“Why we need a Variorum OED: ‘Transgender’ ” 9/12/2020], I pointed to the OED entry for TRANSGENDER as it appeared in December 2020 as a good example of the need for a Variorum OED, which would label all elements (etymologies, definitions, quotations) with their individual revision histories. Well, in the last […]


Why We Need a Variorum OED: “Transgender”

The need for a Variorum–i.e. a detailed revision history for every published element of the OED since 1884–is becoming even more acute.


Published: “Alien” vs. Editor: “World English” in the OED 1884-2020

This article discusses the changing ways in which the Oxford English Dictionary has recorded the vocabularies of ‘World English’ from the beginnings to the present day.


Seamus Heaney on Dictionaries

In the summer of 2012 Seamus Heaney wrote to me on some questions I had sent him about dictionaries and words and etymologies. Bits of what he had to say made it into a couple of talks I did around that time, but I recently rediscovered the original text, and thought it should see the […]


From “Awesomesauce” to “Unlike, v.”: Twitter and the OED

Twitter is emerging as a major source of quotation evidence for the Oxford English Dictionary. In the revisions and additions made to OED3 in 2018, it was the seventh most cited source. In 2019, it was the second most cited source, with 501 quotations, rivaling the Times (of London), with 560, and clobbering the Times […]


A Variorum OED

The Oxford English Dictionary is a notoriously patchy text, having been written and re-written over a span of 130 years or so. In a recent post I put together a graphic representation of this, coloring bits from different editions, additional series and supplements. But even an up-to-date, revised entry in OED3 is a patchwork, combining […]


Fulsome Recovery

The 1989 Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary will tell you that you’re wrong if your think fulsome means the same as full. If you give a ‘fulsome answer’ to some question (as I’ve noticed many people do), it will tell you that your answer is ‘disgusting, repulsive, odious’, ‘Offensive to good taste’ and ‘gross […]


“Covid-19”, and other swiftly documented words in the OED

The OED documented the verb to Google in a 2006 update, eight years after the first occurrence of this sense in print (1998, in eGroups, an old mailing list). Happy slap and derivatives also took eight years to get in, appearing in 2013.  Ditto paywall (published 2012), sext (2015), retweet (2015), and Schmallenberg virus (2019). Omnishambolic (2019) and live-blog (2013) took […]