World of Mouth
The Staid Oxford English Dictionary Opens Its Pages to Yankee Lingo
By Holly Yeager
American English is the real deal. The official sanction comes from the Oxford English Dictionary, which has taken linguistic developments such as "borking" and "borscht belt" so seriously that it has beefed up its New York staff to handle American contributions to the language.
"More so than at any time in history, American English plays a dominant role internationally, exporting words from technical fields to street slang and everything in between," explains Jesse Sheidlower, principal editor of the OED’s North American unit.
That is why Mr Sheidlower and his team have recently drafted dictionary entries for "blog", short for web log, the online diary craze, and "skeevy", which seems to mean "icky", or disgusting. For more definitive explanations, one must wait for the OED to publish its latest additions to the dictionary.
The original volumes of the massive dictionary appeared between 1884 and 1928. Now, for the first time since, the OED is being completely revised and updated. The results, including American additions, are published four times a year and available online by subscription. It is at oed.com, for example, that one can learn more about borking ("the practice of systematically and publicly defaming or vilifying a person in order to prevent his advancement", from the experience of Robert Bork, whose nomination to the US Supreme Court was voted down by Senate Democrats in 1987).
Along with borscht belt, there are ultra-American contributions such as "class-action lawsuit", "air quote" and "missile defence". There is also "fantasy league", the pre-blog phenomenon in which participants compete with imaginary teams they have created by selecting players from real-life sports leagues. In North America, the fad is also known as "rotisserie league", named after the French restaurant in New York where early discussions about forming a virtual league were held.
While comprehensive historical dictionaries exist for the English spoken in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Scotland, there is no such guide to the language spoken from the Yukon Territory to the Florida Keys.
But the history of American English is long and colourful. It may have all begun with "canoe". In America in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped America, authors Allan Metcalf and David Barnhart credit Christopher Columbus with bringing the word to European attention. After observing natives of the West Indies travelling on the water in boats made of a single large hollowed tree, he called the vessels by the same name the Cariban Indians of Haiti used: canoa. The word appears in a book dating from 1555. Other bits of early American English include skunk, turkey and catfish.
By the early 19th century, American English was exploding with words that Messrs Metcalf and Barnhart say "sprang from the exuberance of the expanding new country". There was "sockdolager", for a heavy or decisive blow; "callithumpian", for a noisy parade; and "slangwhanger", for a partisan speechmaker. The words "skedaddle" and "shindig", which date from the same era, are among those still in use today.
Future generations of OED users will similarly be able to glean much about American life from some of the most recent additions to the dictionary. This spring, for example, "channel-hop" – the one that means to flip between television channels, not across the English Channel – made the list. Other entries include "all-you-can-eat", with reference to a 1961 offering: $2.55 for a sirloin steak dinner, from salad to dessert. And last month the OED posted "ladies who lunch", for affluent women "pursuing a life of cultural diversions and social events, especially lunches in expensive restaurants".
Mr Sheidlower and his staff pay close attention to such linguistic developments. And through the North American Reading Program (which Mr Sheidlower insists on spelling that way, with one m and no e), the OED staff and a set of outside readers are scouring the language in search of American words old and new.
They are devouring historic texts, such as Thomas Jefferson’s books of household expenses and other jottings, as well as comic books and the letters of Beat poets. They are also reading The Source: the Magazine of Hip-Hop Music, Culture & Politics. In a letter to the editor in this month’s issue, a writer from Houston declares that "the bling-bling era is over". That may be true, but the OED has not yet tackled the word, which describes large pieces of shiny jewellery often seen in the hip-hop world.
The fast pace with which American English is changing is sure to make the OED’s job a difficult one. The New York staff has recently drafted detailed historical listings for some common – for North Americans, at least – terms and phrases: "tipping point", "gentleman’s C", "weaponize", "collateral damage" and "perp walk". "The things that won’t go in are things you never heard of," explains Mr Sheidlower. Even bling bling is on the to-do list.
Originally published - July 13, 2002
кто-нибудь знает про что-нибудь подобное для русского языка?
надо бы вообще жж загрузить какой-нибудь Большой Миссией... а то треплемся, треплемся днями и ночами... нет, чтобы нормальный "живой" словарь современного русского детям сделать...