The Oxford English Dictionary is a historical dictionary, which means that when its editors add a phrase such as hot mess to their reference—as they did this week—they add every definition of the word they can find. The editors are like detectives, following phrases back to times when Anglo-Saxons were jabbering about peasants and overlords.
The quarterly update reveals that in the 1800s, for instance, a “hot mess” was a warm meal, particularly one served to a group like troops. In the 1900s, people used hot mess to refer to a difficult or uncomfortable situation. And in the 2000s, one used it to refer to Amy Schumer (or, as they put it, something or someone in extreme confusion or disorder).
Twerk, another new addition, might have been made famous by Miley Cyrus and a foam finger in 2013, but the editors traced its meaning back to 1820, when twirk referred to a twisting or jerking movement. The precise origin of the word is uncertain, the editors say, but it may be a blend of twist or twitch and jerk. Their definition: “To dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner, using thrusting movements of the bottom and hips while in a low, squatting stance.”
Here is a selection from the hundreds of words OED just added to its ranks, along with the earliest known usage and context provided by TIME.
autotune (v., 1997): to alter or correct the pitch of (a musical or vocal performance) using an auto-tune device, software, etc. The word has meant “to tune automatically” since 1958, when people were tuning radio transmitters rather than hilarious local news interviews.
backronym (n., 1983): a contrived explanation of an existing word’s origin, positing it as an acronym. When some guy tries to say that golf is an acronym of “gentlemen only, ladies forbidden,” that is a backronym (and clever nonsense). It more likely comes from the Dutch word kolf, which describes a stick used in sports.
boiler room (n., 1892): a place used as a center of operations for an election campaign, especially a room equipped for teams of volunteers to make telephone calls soliciting support for a party or candidate. This phrase has been used to describe an actual room that contains boilers, as on a steamship, since 1820.
bridge-and-tunnel (adj., 1977): of or designating a person from the outer boroughs or suburbs of a city, typically characterized as unsophisticated or unfashionable. The phrase was first used by Manhattanites to describe people they thought unworthy of their island.
cisgender (adj., 1999): designating someone whose sense of personal identity corresponds to the sex and gender assigned to him or her at birth. This word exists to serve as an equal and complement to transgender. You can read all about it here.
FLOTUS (n., 1983): the First Lady of the United States. This is a true acronym, which appears to have been first applied to Nancy Reagan.
fo’ shizzle (phr., 2001): in the language of rap and hip-hop this means “for sure.” Shizzle, as a euphemism for sh-t, dates back to the ’90s. One can also be “the shizzle,” which is the best or most popular thing.
half-ass (v., 1954): to perform (an action or task) poorly or incompetently; to do (something) in a desultory or half-hearted manner. One can also insult someone by calling them an “ass,” referring to the horse-like creature who has appeared in stories as the type who is clumsy or stupid since the time of the Greeks.
koozie (n., 1982): an insulating sleeve that fits over a beverage can or bottle to keep it cold. Fun fact: that little cardboard thing one slips around a cup of coffee to keep it from burning one’s hand is known as a zarf.
Masshole (n., 1989): term of contempt for a native or inhabitant of the state of Massachusetts. This is what is known as a blended word, which Lewis Carroll called portmanteaus, naming them after a suitcase that unfolds into two equal parts.
sext (n., 2001): a sexually explicit or suggestive message or image sent electronically, typically using a mobile phone. Back in the 1500s, when someone referred to a “sext,” they were talking about a Christian worship ritual that involved chanting around midday.
stanky (adj., 1972): having a strong (usually unpleasant) smell. The OED editors offer the comparison to skanky, which means unattractive or offensive, as well as janky, which refers to something that is untrustworthy or of poor quality.
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