Category Archives: Language and Literature in Society

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 […]

Posting Over at the OED Blog

I’ve written a post for the OED blog, digging into OED data on regional varieties of English: “When Regional Englishes Got Their Words“. Check it out! — there I plot the number and date of all OED first citations pertaining to senses typical of regional Englishes, and take a closer look at the chronology of […]

“Bastard” goes legit! (and has some babies of its own)

The June 2019 update to OED3 has many lovely lexicographical additions: the first three listed are ‘ayuh’, ‘bae’, and ‘ball sack’ (if that gives any indication). Twitterati have commented on ‘upper-class twit’ and ‘you (wee) dancer’. But what caught our eye was the adjacent article by senior editor Matthew Bladen on revisions to “bastard, n.” […]

Boathouse Words

Q: What’s the difference between having a SQUIRREL FACE and having a FACE SQUIRREL? A:                      Generally speaking, if you want a word for a MORP that has FUZ, you call it a FUZ-MORP, right? And if there’s a FUZ that gets rid of your MORPS, […]

Insinuendo: OED’s Opinions

The Oxford English Dictionary is rightly regarded as a dispassionate authority on English words, recording without fear or favour as many of those little beasts as it can. But OED editors have not always been above a bit of prescriptive snark. Here is a list of opinions Robert Burchfield, editor of the Second Supplement, decided […]

The Life of Words Anthology 2018

Every year we run a poetry competition, funded by the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation and the English Department of St Jerome’s University. We invite submissions from all Ontario high school students, on a topic to do with language or linguistics. This year we received over 200 poems from all over the province. We […]

Gender Shifts in American Names

Lately I’ve been working with several different gender-inference tools, tweaking them here and there to serve my purposes. Since I’m working with a historical dataset with about eight million records, from 1800 to today, once of the packages I’m using is the gender library for R by Lincoln Mullen, which uses historical US census and […]