Selfhood: new words in the age of the individual

shutterstock_61682320It’s now been five years since ‘selfie’ became the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year, and yet selfie culture appears to be ever on the rise. Some see the selfie as a sign that our culture is becoming increasingly narcissistic (i.e. people admire themselves too much, particularly their appearance), while others argue that selfies can empower people to present themselves as unique individuals and encourage supportive online behaviour. Whatever you think about selfie culture, it would be hard to deny that in modern society, the emphasis on ‘self’ is all around us. It should therefore come as no surprise that the latest batch of new words we’ve added to Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries online features a number of expressions relating to the importance of the individual in today’s society.

Those who condemn selfie culture often accuse people who continually post selfies of being self-obsessed, meaning that they only think about their own life and circumstances, and not about anything else.

He’s a typical arrogant, self-obsessed celebrity.

She never thinks about anyone else – she’s completely self-obsessed!

Similarly, a person who thinks so much about themselves and their own interests that they don’t pay enough attention to anything else can be described as self-involved. Self-aggrandizement, which involves making yourself seem more powerful or important than you are, is a criticism that is sometimes directed at some of the people at the forefront of today’s selfie culture.

Constantly looking at images on social media that have been contrived to show ‘perfection’ may also provoke feelings of self-loathing, which means hatred of yourself, particularly among people who suffer from low self-esteem (= a feeling of not being happy with your own character and abilities). As a coping strategy, or a way of dealing with their problems, people with a negative self-image might self-medicate (= drink alcohol or take drugs) or engage in other self-destructive behaviours.

It may seem as though a lot of words starting with ‘self-‘ have negative associations, but this certainly isn’t always the case. For example, the activity of self-reflection, which involves thinking carefully about your own character and actions, often has a very positive outcome. Returning to the selfie debate, posting selfies can be viewed as an expression of selfhood, the quality that gives you an individual identity and makes you different from others, and can help people develop a positive self-identity.

Our concern with our needs as individuals is also reflected in several new entries relating to elements of our lifestyle. As consumers, nowadays we often seek out products that are customizable, meaning that they can be made to suit our individual requirements. Another term that seems to be cropping up more and more frequently is the adjective aspirational, which, in its newest sense, describes a goal or target that is very ambitious and may be more than you can achieve. This word can also describe somebody who wants very much to be successful in their career or to improve their social status and standard of living.

young, aspirational and independent women

advertising aimed at the aspirational classes

While the rise of the aspirational classes may be positive for the people who belong to that elite sector of society, several other recently added words highlight the struggle that other, less fortunate people face in today’s culture. The figurative sense of food chain, for example, reminds us that, while some people achieve success, there will always be other people ‘at the bottom of the food chain’.

The people working at the bottom of the food chain […] are effectively working for whatever you decide to pay them directly.

These people are the wage slaves, depending entirely on the money they receive for the jobs that they do, jobs that are not seen as skilled or important.

Beyond the world of work, the difficulties faced by those who are struggling against a seemingly uncaring society are also highlighted in the news and media, where increasingly we come across references to fuel poverty, the state of not being able to afford to heat your home, and rough sleepers, people who have no home and sleep outside.

But to end on a positive note, if you scan our list of new entries, you’ll see that we’ve added a number of compound nouns starting with the word ‘community’: community church, community garden, community hospital and community theatre. The words empathetic, meaning able to understand how somebody else feels because you can imagine what it is like to be that person, and empathetically also appear in the list. I’d like to think that these words offer a glimmer of hope for the modern age and show that, despite our increasing need to be seen and treated as individuals, society still has a heart after all.


Leonie Hey is a Senior Editor in OUP’s ELT Dictionaries department. She taught English in Sardinia and worked as a language teacher in the UK before joining OUP in 2011.

Fulfilment centre

shutterstock_144468457What is your idea of fulfilment? We are probably all seeking fulfilment in one form or another, whether that means achieving success in our chosen field of activity, having a happy home life or dedicating ourselves to helping others. So I was intrigued when I first heard the term fulfilment centre – added to Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries online this month. It sounds as though it ought to be a happy place, where you can achieve your long-held ambitions and become that better, nobler person you know you had it in you to be. Unless it is actually the headquarters of some sinister cult, where they will brainwash you into parting with all your possessions and your sense of identity.

The truth is somewhat more mundane. A fulfilment centre – or fulfillment center, as we perhaps should spell it, given the American origin of the term – is a huge building packed with goods. Workers, sometimes known as ‘pickers’, go up and down the long aisles to pick items off the shelves and pack and send them to customers. What gets fulfilled in a fulfillment center is not people, but orders. In plain English, it’s a warehouse.

There is a difference, though. OALD defines warehouse as ‘a building where large quantities of goods are stored, especially before they are sent to shops/stores to be sold’. A modern fulfilment centre is a kind of warehouse, but it is one that often deals with sending goods direct to consumers who have ordered them online. The only shop/store involved is a virtual one on the Internet, not a bricks-and-mortar business.

At this point, I could reflect on the materialism of a society that can equate fulfilment with the acquiring of consumer goods. But really that’s just a quirk of the language, where one word can come to mean two such different things. The term does illustrate another curious feature of modern language, though – the tendency to create new, more positive-sounding names for things that are in reality quite humdrum. Here are some more examples – some of them also American in origin. What is the more traditional term in each case?

animal control officer (dogcatcher)

refuse collector/garbage collector (dustman)

correctional facility (prison)

It could well be argued that the more modern terms are preferable because they give dignity to occupations that are necessary but unglamorous. There is often pressure at work or in public life to put a positive spin on the most unpromising circumstances. Thus, in business, we may talk about strengths and opportunities (= strengths and weaknesses). My husband, who is a teacher, likes to say there is no such thing as failure or mistakes, merely learning opportunities. More pernicious is the so-called courtesy call (= annoying and unwanted phone call from a business to a customer), which may even cause the customer to disengage (= angrily slam the phone down). A politician may be obliged to apologize because he misspoke (= lied). But with terms like this we are getting into the territory of euphemisms.

A euphemism is defined as ‘an indirect word or phrase that people often use to refer to something embarrassing or unpleasant, sometimes to make it seem more acceptable than it really is’. The euphemisms themselves can be serious or humorous:

His mother passed away (= died) last year.

Walk before toward the seaside. … I will but look upon the hedge, and follow you. (Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale)

I’ll leave you to work out what Shakespeare really means by ‘look upon the hedge’ in this case!

Sometimes, however, euphemisms have a more questionable purpose, when they are used to disguise the truth about something quite unacceptable. Examples are collateral damage (= the killing of innocent people in war), enhanced interrogation methods (= torture) and rendition (= sending people to be tortured in another country where the laws against it are less strict).

Avoiding embarrassing topics or difficult truths is a natural human tendency. So is poking fun at ourselves for this behaviour. My favourite euphemism? Pre-loved.

Vintage or pre-loved wedding dresses can be just as lovely.

Many schools have a pre-loved uniform service where outgrown items are donated and sold on cheaply.

We buy and sell pre-loved designer fashion.

a pre-loved edition of ‘Pride and Prejudice’

The room was stacked with boxes of pre-loved teddy bears.


This month Diana Lea celebrates 24 years as a dictionary editor at Oxford University Press. Apart from investigating new and unusual words and expressions for Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries online, she finds fulfilment in fell-walking and baking Victoria sponge cakes.

Fat shaming

We are all well aware that in the 30-odd years since it came into public use, the Internet has become an increasingly powerful tool. It has brought us social media, online shopping, Internet banking, dating websites and apps, digital media and so much more. It has changed culture irrevocably – in some ways for the better, and in some ways for the worse. Whereas before the Internet, individuals were usually restricted to communication with a limited audience, now anyone with Internet access can connect with millions of people worldwide at a click of a button. One of the advantages of this mass communication is that people can spread awareness about issues quickly and easily, consequently reducing stigma and changing attitudes. Yet at the same time, the Internet has unfortunately created the ideal environment for bullying and abuse to proliferate. This dissonance is, as always, illustrated by developments in language.

Added to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary online in March 2018, fat shaming is defined as “the practice of making unpleasant comments about somebody who is judged to be fat or too heavy”. The definition also points the user to body shaming as a comparison (= the practice of making negative comments about a person’s body shape or size). Oxford Dictionaries online goes a step further with shaming collocations: it adds slut shaming to the list (= the practice of making negative comments about a woman’s sexual behaviour), and also identifies fat-shaming and body-shaming as adjectives as well as nouns, e.g. fat-shaming blog.

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Of course, shaming of most kinds has existed for many years and this kind of abuse wasn’t caused by the Internet. What the Internet has done, however, is increase both the prevalence of shaming and the power of the backlash against it. A single Google search for “fat shaming” returns over 19 million results, with references to broadcast media, trolling and anti-fat shaming social media campaigns.

And it doesn’t stop there. Hunting through various corpora reveals a whole host of other types of shaming that have been highlighted in recent years, for example:

  • age shaming (pretty self-explanatory), as in “She’s nearly 50. Should she really still be wearing those thigh-high boots?”
  • mom shaming (when one mother criticizes another for their child-rearing choices), as in “You allow your child to eat chocolate? I never give my child refined sugar.”
  • pill shaming (criticizing people who take medication for mental illnesses), as in “Antidepressants are just a placebo, aren’t they?”
  • thin/skinny shaming (the opposite of fat shaming), as in “Go on, have another pastry – you’re all skin and bones!”
  • victim shaming (judging victims of crimes such as rape, domestic violence, etc.), as in “Why didn’t you just fight back?”

This makes quite a grim catalogue. However, the mere fact that we have names for these forms of abuse means that they lose some of their power. It is very hard to fight against something with no name. Linguistic evolution has provided the rhetoric to denounce bullying of all kinds. Over recent years there has been a surge of body-positive social-media campaigns, for instance – to the extent that body positivity on social media is now known simply as “BoPo” for short.

Not all types of shaming are based on prejudice, thankfully. The idiom name and shame, meaning “to publish the names of people or organizations who have done something wrong or illegal”, illustrates the fact that there are times when it feels necessary to highlight bad behaviour. Passenger shaming is when flight attendants post photographic evidence online to expose bad behaviour on planes. An Instagram account called “passengershaming” includes photos of passengers clipping their toenails, leaving dirty nappies in the seat pockets, and sticking chewing gum inside the safety information cards.

Another example of naming and shaming – and my personal favourite – is cat and dog shaming. These light-hearted shaming practices are especially popular with pet-lovers in the West, who treat their pets like substitute children (see our Word of the Month on fur baby, July 2017). Cat and dog shaming involves publishing memes on the Internet of our feline and canine friends looking dejected or embarrassed next to a sign labelled with their latest misdemeanour, such as “I killed your child’s pet goldfish and left it on the kitchen floor” and “I steal dirty socks from the laundry basket”. Just please don’t ever fat shame your pet for piling on a few pounds – after all, their weight is likely to be your responsibility!


Stacey Bateman is a Development Editor in OUP’s ELT Dictionaries department. She is considering cat shaming her own feline friend, Flossie Teacakes, for her habit of stealing biscuits, and dog shaming the family dog, Frankie, for wiping his face on the sofa after eating.

Unicorn

Unicorns: they do matter

Do you dismiss unicorns as outdated relics of childhood and fantasy?  You may be making a mistake. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary now defines unicorn as “a new company valued at more than a billion dollars, typically in the software or technology sector”. Unicorns rarely go public, and their true value is frequently debated by financial experts. According to Investopedia.com, unicorn was first used in this newer sense in 2013 by venture capitalist Aileen Lee, because finding a software start-up company valued at $1 billion was as rare as finding a unicorn (= an animal like a white horse with a long straight horn on its head).

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Historically, people believed that unicorns had magical qualities, in addition to their extreme rarity, and it is easy to see the appeal of applying the descriptor unicorn to such a company.  After all, few non-experts truly understand the inner workings of software or technology firms, particularly firms which are not listed on the stock market.  Remaining as a private company lends an air of mystery to the business.  This might be particularly true when you consider the fantastical sums of money involved. It isn’t too much of a stretch to regard a start-up company worth $1 billion as having near-magical qualities.

Of course, using legendary creatures as metaphors is nothing new, especially when referring to the world of business, technology, and finance.  Both wizard and giant can be used to describe a person or company who is particularly successful. The recent biopic about Ponzi scheme founder Bernard Madoff is even titled The Wizard of Lies.

wizard

wizard definition

giant

giant definition

On a more positive note, a white knight is “a person or an organization that rescues a company from being bought by another company at too low a price”.  This is related to the newest sense of the word angel:

angel definition

Although a modern unicorn is unlikely to need help from a white knight or an angel investor, these words do highlight our fascination with leading fairy-tale financial lives, a preoccupation which is evident in several idioms, as well.  A Cinderella story is a rags-to-riches tale, in which an individual or a company suddenly rises from poverty to wealth and success.  Who hasn’t been warned not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, or searched for that ever-elusive pot of gold?

Why do we use such magical, mystical, and mystifying language to describe finance and business?  Maybe we long for dreamy days when life was slightly more quixotic.  Or maybe we simply don’t understand how these unicorns, wizards, and giants actually work, so we use metaphors to disguise our confusion.

Modern unicorns, as with most things modern, are a bit flashier and a bit more software-based than their fabled ancestors.  Though the current meaning of the word may have changed, one thing remains the same: a unicorn is still a rare and mysterious entity.


Lindsey Bowden is Dictionaries Assistant in OUP’s Dictionaries and Reference Grammar department. She is legendary – like a unicorn.

Across, around and below

Issues around prepositions

shutterstock_402737608For learners of English, it is often those pesky little words (usually prepositions and adverbs) that cause the biggest headaches. Should you say that you are interested about, in, or of something?

If that wasn’t hard enough already, just like other kinds of words, prepositions and adverbs can change their meaning and acquire new senses. Take this sentence, for example:

The whole team will be across the below issues around the funding gap.

Although it is apparently a sentence with simple, short words, it shows three examples of usage that are relatively new in English and one of which is not yet covered by OALD.

acrossacross has traditionally been used to refer only to physical position or movement but now if a person is across a subject, they are knowledgeable about it or dealing with it.

across

below – OALD only shows adverbial and prepositional uses of below but it is becoming increasingly common to read examples such as ‘the below instructions’ or ‘the below information’ where below is an adjective. It sounds odd to the ears of some English speakers but has become sufficiently widespread for OALD editors to consider adding it to the dictionary.

around – where once only about was used when referring to something, e.g. ‘what are your thoughts about it?’ or ‘there are questions about its suitability’, around is coming up hard on its heels, especially in business and journalistic contexts and when used with words such as issues, questions, doubts, uncertainty. There is often an implication that the speaker or writer is distancing themselves more from the issue/question/doubt/uncertainty by introducing some vagueness.

Another place where about is being supplanted is when used with the word excited. OALD gives the prepositions about, at and by in constructions using excited, but it is becoming common to hear and read the phrase excited for when excited about would (traditionally) be more expected. Take a look at these examples from our corpus:

corpus

Many people will wince or raise an eyebrow at some or all of these usages but, given the dynamic nature of language, shouldn’t we rather be excited – for? – such changes?


After teaching English in China and working as a translator, Patrick fell into the dictionary publishing business where he has edited, managed and commissioned more dictionaries than he cares to recall. Although now Content Director for ELT Dictionaries and Reference Grammar, he’s still an editor at heart and is learning to bite his tongue when his children get inventive with their prepositions.

Nouns as adjectives: one of the funnest changes in English

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word fun as follows:

Diversion, amusement, sport; also, boisterous jocularity or gaiety, drollery. Also, a source or cause of amusement or pleasure.

Which word class does fun belong to? Well, it’s a noun, of course. What else could it be? The OED agrees.

However, the latest edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary allows for fun to appear before nouns, as in this example:

There are lots of fun things for young people to do here.

Could fun be regarded as an adjective in this example? Well, maybe, but we mustn’t forget that, although adjectives are indeed typically placed before nouns, it is also possible for nouns to occur there, as in the phrases lunch menu, mattress protector, business trip, and so on, so this particular example doesn’t conclusively show that fun can be an adjective.

However, the dictionary has two further examples:

She’s really fun to be with

This game looks fun.

shutterstock_6335350In the first of these examples fun is preceded by really, and this proves that it is an adjective, because the adverb really cannot modify nouns. In the second example fun occurs after look, and this again shows that fun is an adjective because only adjectives can occur after this verb (the same is true for seem, appear, smell, and taste).

An even more persuasive bit of evidence for the claim that fun can be an adjective is the fact that it is now also found with the comparative and superlative endings –er and –est, so that can we hear people say this:

There’s nothing funner than those new video games.

This is the funnest thing we’ve ever done together.

Not everyone would use the words funner and funnest. Indeed, after I wrote these sentences, red squiggles immediately appeared underneath them, indicating that my word processing software doesn’t like them either! Nevertheless, it seems that these days the evidence that fun can be used both as a noun and as an adjective is quite convincing.

Are there any other examples of nouns used as adjectives in English? I came across this sentence recently:

We have to be adult about this.

Here the noun adult is used in the sense ‘grown-up’. This is less frequent than fun used as an adjective, but language users are experimenting with new usages all the time, as this passage from the Huffington Post shows:¹

Look at me adulting all over the place. Although I still look to adultier adults (i.e. my husband, who is the adultest) for advice, as I look back on the last almost-decade of my life, I realize I actually have learned a ton of lessons.

The passage is interesting, because its author manages to use adult both as a verb (adulting) and as an adjective (adultier, adultest). There is again a red squiggly objection coming from my word processor to warn me that these examples are unusual. Maybe this guidance is not unreasonable, because most English speakers would regard this as playful language.

The new uses of fun and adult again demonstrate that English is constantly changing, and that some words do not exclusively belong to only one word class over time.


¹ http://bit.ly/2wtNZeE


Bas Aarts is Professor of English Linguistics at UCL and the author of Oxford Modern English Grammar. He is a founder of the Englicious website which contains free English language teaching resources and writes the blog Grammarianism for teachers of English.

Trepidatious

Some words aren’t ‘real’ words. But if they look, sound, and behave like real words, they may gradually infiltrate the language and before you know it everyone just assumes they were real words all along.

And who is to say what is a real word and what is not? Not the dictionary, whose role is to describe the language, not to prescribe what should or should not be used. No, it is users of the language who decide – which means you!

So is trepidatious a real word? It is not in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, but should it be? I will present its case and leave it to you to decide.

Actually, my case is getting off to a very bad start, as my computer program adds a red wavy line underneath the word trepidatious every time I type it. Clearly my word-processing software does not approve. However, I will ignore that and press on.

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A common and accepted way to create new words is through derivation, or adding prefixes or suffixes to existing words to make new ones. Thus the verb entertain becomes the noun entertainment with the addition of the noun suffix -ment. So, we should start with the noun trepidation, which describes a fear that something bad might happen, for example:

He knocked on the door with some trepidation.

She set off up the mountain with fear and trepidation.

This noun is a fine alternative to the more mundane fear or the less formal nervousness, and no one will bat an eyelid if you use it, in fact probably the reverse – people will be impressed by your wide range of vocabulary. Talking of which, how many other English words for fear do you know? We’ve got lots! I’ve listed 15 synonyms or near-synonyms of fear at the bottom. Give yourself a point for each noun you can think of and see if you can score over ten points!

Most of our ‘fear’ nouns have adjectives to go with them: we have apprehension/apprehensive, nerves/nervous, worry/worried, fear/fearful, phobia/phobic just for starters. So why can’t we have an adjective trepidatious for our noun trepidation?

The formation of the adjective is grammatically sound. We turn other nouns ending in -ation into adjectives ending in -atious, for example flirtation/flirtatious, ostentation/ostentatious, vexation/vexatious. Trepidatious follows the pattern and allows us to create sentences such as:

I was feeling trepidatious as I approached the door.

She was trepidatious but also excited about future challenges.

Such sentences are used in real life. Just the other day I heard the following on a radio podcast from a film critic who was about to watch a much-hyped new movie:

I went into this slightly trepidatious.

There are almost 200 examples of trepidatious being used in real life in our newest corpus (= our collection of written and spoken texts as of February 2018), which is admittedly not a very large number. For comparison, there are 8,000 instances of the noun trepidation and 10,000 of the adjective apprehensive, so there is a long way to go before it becomes common usage. But there were no examples at all in our older corpus (up to 2014), so usage is certainly growing. The Oxford English Dictionary cites examples going back as far as 1904, so perhaps the word fell out of common usage and is now making a comeback.

My final point in favour of trepidatious is that it is easily understood. If you know the word trepidation, then you will not be confused if you come across the word trepidatious, even if you’ve never heard it before. This may be why the word is creeping in under the radar, as its use does not cause a problem with communication.

As we have already seen, we’ve already got lots of synonyms for afraid. The closest in meaning to trepidatious is probably apprehensive, so you may feel that that is perfectly adequate and trepidatious is just surplus to requirements. Or do you think we should welcome new ones, in the spirit of ‘the more the merrier’?

Synonyms of fear:

Agitation / Alarm / Anxiety / Apprehension / Concern / Dread / Fear / Fright / Hysteria / Nervousness / Panic / Paranoia / Phobia / Terror / Trepidation / Worry


Jennifer Bradbery has worked on many dictionaries and other reference materials for learners of English, including the Oxford Learner’s Thesaurus, a dictionary of synonyms.

Virtue signalling

January 7th 2018. At the Golden Globe Awards ceremony, many of Hollywood’s most famous female actors wore plain black dresses instead of the usual extravagant examples of haute couture. Their aim was to show support for the #timesup and #metoo campaigns against sexual harassment. When the same campaign ran during the BAFTAs ceremony in the UK a month later, the Daily Mail newspaper called it ‘virtue signalling: the sequel’.

You may not agree with the Daily Mail’s opinion but it raises an interesting question. It became apparent that many actors were aware of unacceptable behaviour in their industry but almost none of them had spoken out at the time.

shutterstock_129038348That is the essence of ‘virtue signalling’ – publicly expressing a view that demonstrates your good moral character, but not doing anything practical to change the situation. Or, to put it another way, it’s easy to join a Twitter campaign with millions of others. It’s much harder to take action when you come across the problem in real life.

The term ‘virtue signalling’ may sound as if it comes from the field of social sciences, but the Oxford New Words Corpus* reveals that it is used mainly by journalists writing opinion pieces in blogs or newspapers, especially those with right-wing sympathies such as Fox News or Breitbart.com. The corpus shows that it is primarily used to denounce politicians who express liberal opinions on issues such as climate change, gun control, Brexit or feminism.

The term is a recent addition to the language with about 150 examples in the corpus since 2015. But if you search for ‘virtue signalling’ on Twitter, you will find hundreds of examples within the last few weeks alone. In fact, on Twitter it seems to have become the new word for ‘political correctness’.

A good example comes from the British journalist, Piers Morgan, who recently wrote: ‘How dare you kill off mankind, Mr Trudeau, you spineless virtue-signalling excuse for a feminist.’ This was after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apparently used the term ‘peoplekind’ to replace the word ‘mankind’.

Not all examples of virtue signalling refer to politics. When the physicist Stephen Hawking died recently, #RIPstephenhawking trended on Twitter. Clearly most people had never met Hawking. It’s also unlikely that they could tell you anything about the complex scientific theories that he had developed. So why did so many people use the #RIP hashtag? The accusation is that they hoped to enhance their public image simply by associating themselves with a great person.

There is something quintessentially 21st century about the use and the tone of the term ‘virtue signalling’. If you look through the list of other words that have recently been added to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary online, it’s easy to see the influence of social media. Among these words are, for example: clicktivism, ghosting, lurker, Remoaner. One of the striking things about these new words from social media is that so many of them are pejorative. If you go to the original source and read the full articles or tweets, the tone of the debate is almost relentlessly negative. Maybe it’s time to start a hashtag campaign to treat each other with respect on Twitter. Or would that just be another example of virtue signalling?


*The Oxford New Words Corpus was started in early 2012 and now totals approximately 7 billion words collected from recently published web pages.


Martin Moore is a Managing Editor in OUP’s ELT Dictionaries and Reference Grammar department.

Food: words that reflect our lifestyle

Many new words added to Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries online recently involve food. Not just types of food, although there are always plenty of those to add as our eating habits become ever more international, but words that describe ways of life.

In some cases these are not lifestyle choices but necessities, such as food pantry, an organization that distributes food to food banks to provide for those who cannot afford to buy food. Food security, the state of having reliable access to enough nutritious food, has declined in many developing countries, leading to the opposite, food insecurity. While I regret the need for such words, perhaps their existence is at least recognition of the conditions of people whose employment and income are insecure, the precariat.

shutterstock_325346537Some words, such as clean eating, imply approval or disapproval, with implicit criticism of the opposites. If there is ‘clean’ food, then this suggests that other food is ‘dirty’, bad in some way and therefore unacceptable. Clean eating is about choices, choosing certain food groups, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, often organic, and nuts, pulses and whole grains, while rejecting others, mostly processed foods, and those high in fat or sugar. Followers can become obsessed with restricted diets, leading to a condition known as orthorexia, in which they consider all other foods to be harmful, and become ill through lack of a balanced diet. Like anorexia, orthorexia is derived from the Greek -orexia – ‘appetite’, and combined with ortho – ‘correct’, from Greek orthos – ‘straight, upright’. The popularity of energy bars and energy drinks plays further upon people’s desires to eat in the right way, or at least to believe that they are doing so. The sporty, healthy sound of these belies the fact that they can be packed with sugar.

The obsession with health, especially size and weight, is also reflected in body fascism, body shaming and fat shaming. All three terms are concepts involving criticism of someone’s appearance. The media, especially social media, has a lot to answer for, as those are the forums where such actions chiefly take place, either in personal comments or in journalism:

Body fascism is undoubtedly a factor in television casting.

Celebrities joined the fight against cyberbullying and body shaming.

Instead of embracing her figure and all its curves, and standing up to fat shaming, she caved in and gave in to peer pressure.

As well as pressure to conform to body image, there is also pressure to behave ethically in buying food and to dispose of leftovers thoughtfully. We can support fair trade by buying goods from employers who offer decent working conditions and a living wage. Is your leftover food compostable? If so, don’t throw it away, adding to landfill or causing pollution. Discarded cooking oil contributes to the creation of a fatberg, a large mass of solid waste found in the sewers beneath us.

Thinking of pleasanter matters, you might enjoy cooking up specialities, such as mousselines and other cheffy dishes involving complicated recipes and methods:

The five-course lunch included dishes such as poached eggs with artichoke mousseline.

Others prefer comfort food, often associated with childhood or home cooking:

Stews are the ultimate comfort food, particularly in cold weather.

My comfort food – the food that reminds me of being a child – is egg and chips.

And if you don’t want to cook, you could enjoy one of many takeaways available, for example a shawarma, another name for a doner kebab, a Middle Eastern food that’s popular all over the world.

How do new words come about? Words like shawarma and mousseline have been adopted into English from other languages, here Arabic and French, along with the food itself. Others, like orthorexia, are created to describe a new condition. Where medical and scientific terms are concerned, the origins are often Latin or Greek. Many new words are compounds where two or more words are put together, such as food hall, food security, food insecurity, comfort food, fair trade, body fascism, clean eating. They might have started as collocations, such as fair trade, or they might have been deliberately put together to create a concept, such as clean eating. Others are new meanings added to existing words, such as banger, which is not just a sausage (see Word of the Month, January 2018).

Eating habits and ways of life are constantly changing, adding flavour and colour to our expanding vocabulary. Check out all the new words and meanings recently added to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries site here.


Victoria Bull taught English in Sussex and London before joining Oxford University Press as a dictionary editor in 2004. She has worked on a number of dictionaries including the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the ELTon award-winning Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English and the ESU award-winning Oxford Student’s Dictionary. She is the editor of Oxford Wordpower Dictionary, Oxford Primary Dictionary for Eastern Africa and the Oxford Children’s Picture Dictionary for learners of English.

Brexiteers, Remoaners and frenemies

boy-in-union-jack-capThe referendum of 2016 brought about a new division in the UK: between Leavers and Remainers, or put more informally, between Brexiteers and Remoaners. I’m not going to discuss the rights and wrongs of both sides – and will try not to reveal my own position! – but want to look instead at some of the new words generated by the discussion around Brexit.

Back in May 2016, we published a blog post on the new word Brexit. That was before the referendum, in which votes in favour of leaving the EU (European Union) outnumbered votes to remain, by a slim margin. Since then, as the British government struggles to negotiate with the EU exactly what Brexit will entail, the split of opinion and passions surrounding this issue continue to be strong. Language has evolved to help convey some of those emotions.

One new word is Brexiteer, defined here by the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary online:

brexiteer-definition

Brexiteer has overtaken Brexiter, another new word meaning the same thing but more neutral in connotation.

What does the suffix -eer convey? In some words it simply signifies a person that does something connected to the noun it’s attached to – for example: auctioneer, engineer, mountaineer, puppeteer, volunteer. -eer is also the suffix in some loanwords that have come into English from French – for example: buccaneer (French: boucanier), mutineer (French: mutinier), pioneer (French: pionnier), musketeer (French: mousquetaire). This category of words often describe a daring, dashing (= usually of a man: attractive, confident, elegant) or swashbuckling (= especially of a hero from the past: adventurous, fighting with a sword, etc.) sort of person. Additionally, -eer marks several nouns as pejorative (= disapproving) – for example: profiteer, racketeer.

So which category does Brexiteer belong to? Who uses it about whom?

People in the Leave camp were, particularly at the outset, cautious of the words Brexit and its derivatives Brexiteer/Brexiter. Brexit, at least since the Prime Minister Mrs May insisted after the referendum that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, has established itself as an ordinary term in discussions. It is even used freely in other languages:

Pour comprendre ce qu’est le Brexit, il faut d’abord expliquer ce qu’est le Royaume-Uni. [from Libération, 7 April 2017]

Mit dem Brexit will Großbritannien auch aus dem Europäischen Binnenmarkt ausscheiden. [from Zeit Online, 28 March 2018]

Bruksela odrzuca model pobrexitowych stosunków między UE i Wlk. Brytanią, który premier Theresa May zapopronowała w ub. tygodniu. [from wyborcza.pl, 7 March 2018]

Brexiteer hasn’t gained the same neutral function as Brexit. Whether it has a positive or negative ring (= quality) depends on the speaker. Clearly some Leave supporters are happy to embrace it as a positive description:

‘Brexiteer brings to mind buccaneer, pioneer, musketeer,’ says Michael Gove. ‘It lends a sense of panache (= the quality of being able to do things in a confident and elegant way that other people find attractive) and romance to the argument.’ [from The Spectator, 24 September 2016]

Notice Mr Gove did not add mutineer to his list, as that word carries with it a sense of rebellion without the more attractive attributes of a pioneer, etc. However, Brexiteer is also used by those who oppose Brexit to suggest someone who is recklessly putting the country’s future at risk. One thing a Brexiteer has is a passionate commitment to the cause. Corpus evidence shows Brexiteer used with adjectives such as ardent and convinced. For the more extreme variety of Brexiteer there are adjectives such as hard, hard-line and arch – there are many fewer soft Brexiteers in use.

Three pro-Brexit ministers in Mrs May’s post-referendum cabinet – Boris Johnson, David Davis, Liam Fox – were dubbed (= to give somebody/something a particular name, often in a humorous or critical way) The Three Brexiteers and portrayed in media illustrations as the legendary Three Musketeers.

Remoaner is a pejorative and humorous new word that Brexit supporters use of their opponents, criticizing them for failing to accept the result of the referendum with their talk of second referendums, and ongoing forecasts of doom (= death or destruction; any terrible event that you cannot avoid) once Brexit is in place. Here is the new entry from the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary online:

remoaner-definition

It replaces -main- in the neutral term Remainer with moan (= to make a long deep sound, e.g. expressing unhappiness or suffering). Remoaner is made even more negative by the addition of adjectives such as miserable, whinging or bleating.

While this play on words started life as a noun, it has given rise to a few derivatives, especially the gerund and present participle:

When will the remoaners stop remoaning and accept the fact that the UK is leaving the EU? [from Yahoo Answers]

… if ‘remoaning’ means standing up for EU citizens who have made their lives in the UK … [from The Mirror]

Remoaner is a blend or portmanteau word in that it combines elements of two separate words, but is different from classic blends in that it sounds more like a distortion of a known word – a distortion of Remainer.

The blend word frenemy will most probably come in handy more and more in discussing post-Brexit relations:

friend + enemy = frenemy

Here is its entry from the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary online:

frenemy-definition

This word is actually not anywhere near as new as Brexiteer and Remoaner: its first use is recorded as being in 1953. But its usage has increased in recent years.

The big band of Brexiteers includes many frenemies: people united in their wish to leave the EU but otherwise with different political views or social backgrounds. In the situation in which the UK will be cutting at least some ties with old friends, it will need new ones – and will most likely have to make some frenemies too! Which countries will prove to be lifelong friends, and which will become best frenemies remains to be seen.


Janet Phillips is a Senior Editor in OUP’s ELT Dictionaries & Reference Grammar department. She has been editing bilingual dictionaries and grammar reference materials for learners of English for more than 20 years.