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Dictionary Fans Might Squee: OED Adds New Words, Because YOLO

A fusty old tome? Fuhgeddaboudit!

The Oxford English Dictionary regularly updates to reflect English's evolution. The latest update includes a number of slang words — like YOLO, the acronym for "you only live once" — as well as terms like gender-fluid, food terms such as the Greek pastry spanakopita and Filipino stew kare-kare, and a bevy of words related to Roald Dahl, who was born 100 years ago this week.

Oompa Loompa, scrumdiddlyumptious and witching hour are among the Dahlesque terms that made it into the latest edition of the OED.

The OED is famous for its extensive quotations, showing words as they are used in the wild. And part of the fun of an update like this one is learning that some new-seeming words have long histories indeed.

Take YOLO — for a time, immensely popular as a hashtag on social media, where it expressed about the same feeling as carpe diem.

The Lonely Island memorably parodied the term in a song that expressed the opposite sentiment: to wit, "You only live once ... don't get too crazy, it's not worth the risk." (Kendrick Lamar offers investment advice, and Adam Levine proffers food-safety tips.)

But YOLO as shorthand for you only live once has been around for decades, as the OED notes: That's the name for the ranch where Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart lives.

And "witching hour" — which appeared in Dahl's The BFG and was included in the batch of new Dahl-related entries — dates back centuries.

Dahl's vision was an eerie one: "The witching hour, somebody had once whispered to her, was a special moment in the middle of the night when every child and every grown-up was in a deep deep sleep, and all the dark things came out from hiding and had the world all to themselves."

Elizabeth Carter Keene, in a poem from 1762, was a bit more specific about the "dark things": "Tis the baleful witching hour,..Now doth murders dagger gleam,..Yawning graves give up their dead."

As for "squee," that Internetty expression of delight, the strong connotation of joy is represented only in rather more recent quotes:

"1998 Re: Ewok Fangirl needs Ewok 2 Pack in rec.arts.sf.starwars.collecting.misc (Usenet newsgroup) 17 Apr. Thanks to everyone that wrote, I'll be getting one in the mail soon! :) Squee! I am so happy.

Other new additions to the dictionary include:

  • biatch and associated spellings — beeotch, beoch, beotch, beyotch, biotch, biyotch, beeoch — that express the same variation of "bitch"
  • bracketology, the art practiced during March Madness — and, it turns out, a term for the practice of filling in the gaps in an old manuscript with one's best guess at the missing words
  • cheeseball, as in the food item and a foolish or unoriginal person
  • fuhgeddaboudit, interjection, from "forget about it!"
  • moobs, aka man boobs
  • T-bone, the verb for a particular kind of car crash
  • transporter, as in the Star Trek technology
  • uptalk, or that rise in voice that suggests a question?
  • yogalates, for yoga combined with Pilates
  • Other entries were updated, the OED explains. One in particular took delicate handling:

    "The entry for gremlin has received careful attention from the OED's researchers, editors, and etymologists, none of whom (following the instructions in Joe Dante's 1984 film about a very specific later incarnation of these creations) got the entry wet, exposed it to bright light, or added any quotations to it after midnight. The Gremlins, published in 1943, was Dahl's first children's book, and he sometimes claimed to have invented this name for meddlesome imps imagined as a cause of technical and other problems for aeroplanes. Our newly revised entry traces the origins of this mysterious word back to 1929 and its use as RAF slang to mean 'a lowly or despised person; a menial, a dogsbody, a wretch', while our earliest evidence for use referring to the destructive sprites so feared by Second World War pilots dates from 1938."

    In total, there are more than 1,000 updated entries and 1,200 new words or meanings, the OED says.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Corrected: September 11, 2016 at 11:00 PM CDT
    A previous version of this story incorrectly identified The Lonely Island as The Lonely Planet.
    Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.