Keeping up with the ever-evolving English language

By Hannah Buckley, Specialist Content Creator

This week saw 203 new words, such as whatevs, simples and chillax, added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as part of its quarterly update. As a writer who also has a French degree, I love language and find the etymology and evolution of words fascinating. So, the updates to the dictionary always spark my interest – even if I don’t agree with all of them… 2015’s bants sticks in my mind!

Image credit: Pixabay

The four updates to the dictionary each year demonstrate how pop-culture, technology, politics and a more multicultural society, among other things, impact the way we speak. For instance, the latest update features Star Wars terms (Jedi, lightsabre, Padawan and the Force), regional dialect and words borrowed from other languages. Above all, the new additions to the dictionary highlight the ever-evolving nature of the English language.

And, as much as new words and phrases are being thought up every year, others seem to have stood the test of time – after all, it’s thought 1,700 words and phrases in the English language were invented by Shakespeare.

Conversely, words can fall out of fashion. For example, how frequently do you hear people saying things like ‘whence’, ‘whilst’ or ‘oftentimes’? Similarly, some words can disappear altogether. Take scurryfunge, for example, which was once used to mean ‘a hasty tidying of the house between the time you see a neighbour and the time they knock on the door’.

Over time, the meaning of words can also change, as reflected by the definitions of steaming and hanging being updated in line with their use to mean drunk and hungover respectively.

Here are some of my favourites from the latest OED update:

Arancini, n.: Balls of rice stuffed with a savoury filling, coated in breadcrumbs, and fried, typically served as an appetizer or snack.

Easy-breezy, adj.: Especially of clothing, style, etc. Informal, casual; relaxed, carefree.

Kapow, int.: Representing the sound of an explosion, a gunshot, a hard punch or blow, etc.

Manhattanhenge, n.: A phenomenon in which the sun rises or sets in alignment with the streets that run east to west on the street grid of Manhattan, New York City.

Nomophobia, n.: Anxiety about not having access to a mobile phone or mobile phone services.

Omnishambles, n.: Chiefly in political contexts: a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged or is characterised by a series of blunders and miscalculations. This phrase was coined by the political comedy The Thick of It in 2009.

While it’s unlikely I’ll be using words such as sumfin, fakeness or easy-breezy in my work any time soon, I will most certainly be snacking on arancini and checking out Manhattenhenge when I’m next in New York.