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Reviews209 The Oxford Dictionary of New Words: A Popular Guide to Words in the News. 1991. Ed. Sara Tulloch. Oxford: Oxford UP. xii + 322 pp.£12.95; $19.95 U.S. A book of new words drawing on the vast citation files of the Oxford dictionary department is bound to arouse interest among students of neologisms . The Oxford Dictionary of New Words (ODNW), Oxford's first book of neologisms (excepting the OED Supplements), will be both pleasing and frustrating . The quality of the information and research that went into the book is exceptionally high: readers can be assured that any word in question will have a lengthy and accurate discussion of its origins, history, and use. On die odier hand, the book was clearly written for a popular audience: words are chosen for their perceived interest, rather than by any objective measure; definitions and discussions, though complete, are written in a broad, discursive style, with much sociological commentary; and die earliest attested date of a word is not given. In any book of new words, the editor is faced with the difficult task of deciding exacdy what a new word is. Approaches vary: for the Merriam-Webster series of "X-Thousand Words" books, the criterion is simple: if a word is not in W3, it is a candidate for entry, regardless of age. Thus, fuck, a word of no recent origin, is found for the first time in 9,000 Words, along with such other, indisputable neologisms as AIDS, desertification, and streaking—die last, by the way, having been singled out in the preface of the previous edition , 6,000 Words, as being a word that died in six months and therefore was "unlikely to enter a general dictionary," thus exemplifying some of the difficulties faced by neologists. The regular "Among the New Words" column in American Speech defines a new word as one that "does not appear in general dictionaries at the time it is included in the column," with the list of "general dictionaries" always changing. Because dictionaries of neologisms are also consulted, the column generally does record actual neologisms, as the likelihood of a word being missed by all the sources the column checks is low. The three Barnhart dictionaries select "those terms and meanings which have come into the common or working vocabulary of the English-speaking world" during the period under consideration for each dictionary. The ODNW, similarly, adopts a broad definition: "any word, phrase, or meaning diat came into popular use in English or enjoyed a vogue during the eighties and early nineties" [my emphasis]. In some ways, this broadening is a needed addition: in a book designed for popular appeal, one would like to include many words diat people might want to look up that cannot be found in standard desk dictionaries, and adopting a more rigid policy could exclude these words from consideration. The editor makes clear that the collection is not a comprehensive guide to additions to the language. Thus, many highly technical words found in the Barnhart or Merriam-Webster books are omitted; instead, the Oxford volume has a selection of earlier words and, in 210Reviews general, far more information about all words than in other new words dictionaries . But for a dictionary whose title specifies new words, some of these words are quite old indeed: acid rain, landfill, free radical, fibre ('food material such as bran and cellulose that is not broken down by the process of digestion '), and, oddly, condom: no matter what sort of vogue the practice of safe sex has given to this word, its inclusion here is very strange. To be sure, the dictionary makes clear the age of these words and discusses in depth the reasons for their coming to prominence. But one result of the dropping of objective standards of inclusion is the possibility of including ephemera or older words at the expense of better-established, and actually new, words. The editor includes some current items of interest that are non-lexical: casual sex (the clearly lexicalized safe sex 'sexual activity in which precautions are taken to ensure diat the risk of spreading sexually transmitted diseases ... is minimized' is also included), the advertising...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 209-213
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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