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January 9, 2006 3:13 PM   Subscribe

Were you a minger, sporting a mullet, looking a bit naff when you were getting mullered while out on the pull, anytime before 1988? Or were you posh and minted, looking snazzy after spending your dosh to get a nip and tuck before 1980? If so, the Oxford English Dictionary and the BBC need you for their Wordhunt – a call to help find the earliest verifiable usages of a list of words from the past decades whose origin is still uncertain.
posted by funambulist (28 comments total)

 
You might mention that thanks to the (apparently terrible) BBC word show, the online OED is free for the next few weeks (at certain times):
For 48 hours after each programme (from 22:00 GMT on Mondays to 22:00 GMT on Wednesdays) you can look up any words, beginning with any letter, in the whole of the OED.
posted by languagehat at 3:33 PM on January 9, 2006


It had always been my guess that "bog-standard" comes from the name "Standard" imprinted into many UK lavatory fixtures, including or even especially the bog.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:42 PM on January 9, 2006


List of British English words not used in American English

And the opposite
posted by Mwongozi at 3:48 PM on January 9, 2006


My favourite (although almost certainly apocryphal) story behind 'bog-standard' relates to the Meccano construction sets they used to sell in the UK. Apparently you could get either a "Box (Standard)" or a "Box (Deluxe)".

According to the story, 'bog-standard' is a corruption of "Box (Standard)", while "Box (Deluxe)" was Spoonerised into "dog's bollocks".
posted by chrismear at 3:49 PM on January 9, 2006


I can't remember seeing 'Standard' on many loos. I can remember the phrase 'Armitage Shanks', which prompted the memorable graffito:
"Who is Armitage, and what is Shanking?"
posted by dash_slot- at 3:50 PM on January 9, 2006


Also, I thought the TV show was okay. Sure, it's not especially rigourous or in-depth, and you could probably get the same information out of two minutes' reading, but you could say the same about most recent documentaries. Despite this, I found it fun to watch, and exciting just that they're putting language and etymology on a main channel and getting a wider audience interested. And if nothing else, the presenter's pretty easy on the eyes.
posted by chrismear at 3:56 PM on January 9, 2006


Speaking of Mingers, some bored sap at the BBC this evening has gone to all the trouble of writing an article about how to refer to the supporters of Sir Menzies (pronounced Mingis or Ming) Cambell, just in order to jokingly refer to them as Mingers. Bless.
posted by chill at 4:14 PM on January 9, 2006


It's so weird that the first (so-far) printed reference for so many of them is so late. And would they take printed US references? "gay" was certainly used in newspapers/magazines/etc here well before the 70s.
posted by amberglow at 4:26 PM on January 9, 2006


The BBC are so earnest.
posted by fire&wings at 4:35 PM on January 9, 2006


amber, where are you getting "the 70s"? They say:
The earliest the dictionary has for it in this sense is 1935

(And of course they use US sources.)
posted by languagehat at 4:50 PM on January 9, 2006


I was the first person on the planet to use the word wally to mean a silly person.

I am a veritable style indicator.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:50 PM on January 9, 2006


Call Mingering Miiike! Ain't nobody heard his name, but he's number one in the game of fake records an dreams... In the 60's and 70's the artist Mingering Mike made a series of fake records in a style often labeled as folk art or art brut. The pieces were found by some craphound in 04, who posted them to the net, and then after some sleuthing, found the artist and reunited him with his old work, leading to some internet fame, press articles, and gellery shows. Mike on MeFi previously.
posted by roboto at 5:58 PM on January 9, 2006


Bog standard discussion at Michael Quinion's (recommended) World Wide Words
posted by bmckenzie at 7:57 PM on January 9, 2006


Well, I hope they consult Roger's Profanisaurus first.

My fellow Americans, if you are ever lucky enough to find a copy of Viz Magazine, turn to the Profanisaurus in the back. It's basically guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes from laughter.
posted by redteam at 8:15 PM on January 9, 2006


some strangely omitted common Britishisms:

jammy (as in lucky), whaffle, pleb, quiff, spunker, tosspot, rank (as in bad odour), bag o'shite, up yer khyber, dirtbox, shirt lifter, duck's arse and you bleedin' wazzock.
posted by rodney stewart at 8:52 PM on January 9, 2006


"nip and tuck"
Alas, I don't have any written evidence at my fingertips, but I do definitely remember hearing it used in 1971, but not having anything to do with plastic surgery. Rather, I asked a farmer working in his field on the Eastern Shore of Virginia how things were going, and he said "Oh, it's nip and tuck. Nip and tuck." Meaning that he was not making any good progress, just hanging in there.

I can put the date on it - April, 1971 - because I had just gotten my drivers license and taken my grandmother over there. The farmer's reply struck me because I hadn't heard "nip and tuck" used in quite that context before, and it struck me as being sort of colorful in a rural way; I definitely mentioned it to my mother when I got back.

I am fairly certain that was not the first time I had heard "n and t"; I believe it has long been used to describe a close contest.

I'm surprised the OED is so far off the mark on this, particularly since I look in my Concise Oxford Dictionary published in 1976 and they've got it right there - "nip and tuck [=] neck and neck." So they can't read their own books?


Notes to rodney: "shirt lifter" has Australian origin; and "rank" as used to mean "foul odor" I've known since my long ago childhood - however, I did grow up downwind from a paper mill, so there was need for such a word.
posted by custis at 9:21 PM on January 9, 2006


amber, where are you getting "the 70s"? They say:
The earliest the dictionary has for it in this sense is 1935

No, they say the first use is 1935 (as an adjective), and 1971 (as a noun)

I'm talking about it as a noun.
posted by amberglow at 10:00 PM on January 9, 2006


Well, I hope they consult Roger's Profanisaurus first.

They went directly to the source -- for the etymology of phoarr, at least, which they attribute to Viz.

"gay" was certainly used in newspapers/magazines/etc here well before the 70s.

Well, find an example, send it off and you'll get it in. FWIW, I'm sure I've seen uses of the word 'gay' in the US literature prior to the 70's. Probably in the works of John Rechy. But I couldn't immediately turn to the exact novel or page so I may well be wrong.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:33 AM on January 10, 2006


Doesn't the OED pay researchers to look for early verifiable usages of words?

The only reward mentioned on the site is that
you might help in rewriting the dictionary. Not even a free copy of the dictionary?

Seems a bit tight to me.
posted by drill_here_fore_seismics at 2:59 AM on January 10, 2006


drill_here_fore_seismics: "Seems a bit tight to me."

On the Balderdash & Piffle programme (basically unwatchable) they cracked a gag about this, with the (idiot) presenter Victoria Coren saying, '...and you can win a million pounds! Only joking, you'll just get the satisfaction of changing the dictionary.' Strange joke to make.

It's a terrible programme, in fact - I turned off when a trail for an upcoming item on Polari featured a bloke engaging in a spot of cottaging, commenting on his partner's eek and riah, when one would've thought his bagadga would be of greater interest ;-)
posted by jack_mo at 4:35 AM on January 10, 2006


I'm surprised the OED is so far off the mark on this

Do you not understand the difference between "I'm sure I heard this back when I talked to a farmer in 1971" and "Here's a printed citation from 1971"? It's the latter they're looking for; your memories are valuable to no one but yourself.

Seems a bit tight to me.

Do you not understand the difference between spending your working hours doing a job day in, day out for years and sending in the odd word you happen to run across? If you don't feel like helping them out unless you get paid, don't, but I'm glad most people don't feel that way.
posted by languagehat at 4:53 AM on January 10, 2006


languagehat, my point is that the OED is a money making enterprise, it will go on to use these citations to make money from it's dictionaries and websites.

I've got no problem contributing to something like Wikipedia or Project Gutenberg distributed proof reading where everyone benefits from contributions, but simply that the OED will benefit from your work and then charge others to access it.

While the list linked to mainly consists of older and well established word and phrases the annual 'what words have entered the dictionary this year?' always annoy me as they simply seem an easy way for dictionary publishers to get publicity in their attempt to sell their latest editions. Many of the new words included often strike me as having fairly short life spans, I'd prefer dictionaries to take a slightly longer view and wait and see whether they actually last rather than rush to include them in an attempt to appear up to the minute.

On closer examination of Wordhunt page. I must correct my post about the only reward on the site. It seems that if you send your evidence to the BBC and it might feature in the big series coming to BBC2 next year. Sorry about the mistake, although that does to mean that my licence fee is also being used to help the OED make money, although they might be helping to fund the programme in return for all the free publicity I suppose.
posted by drill_here_fore_seismics at 7:22 AM on January 10, 2006


languagehat, my point is that the OED is a money making enterprise, it will go on to use these citations to make money from it's dictionaries and websites.

Amen! Last I heard, those bastards at Nature are still charging people to read their journal! And they hardly write any of the papers themselves!
posted by chrismear at 8:26 AM on January 10, 2006


Cary Grant famously (or at least I thought it was famously) used 'gay' in the following context in the 1938 film 'Bringing up Baby'.

Mrs. Random: Well, you look perfectly idiotic in those clothes.
David Huxley: These aren't my clothes.
Mrs. Random: Well, where are your clothes?
David Huxley: I've lost my clothes!
Mrs. Random: But why are you wearing *these* clothes?
David Huxley: Because I just went gay all of a sudden!

I believe this is generally credited as being the first use of the word in a mainstream film. Do they count filmed records as relevant? Presumably it would have been scripted as well, perhaps taking some time off and also providing a printed record, certainly it appears that main spelling from 1935 is 'gey' (the first they have for 'gay' is 1951), making the film and its script seem a relevant attribution.
posted by biffa at 10:15 AM on January 10, 2006


Amen! Last I heard, those bastards at Nature are still charging people to read their journal! And they hardly write any of the papers themselves!

Yeah, 'cos getting your paper published in Nature doesn't help your academic career one bit!
posted by drill_here_fore_seismics at 10:33 AM on January 10, 2006


And why is getting a paper published in Nature such a big thing? Because it's an established, definitive publication, with rigourous academic standards, and contributes positively to the sum of human knowledge. And yet it manages this while still being a money-making institution.

Making profits or charging for access doesn't negate the importance or uniqueness of a publication, and it's because of those qualities that people are excited about contributing to it.
posted by chrismear at 5:11 PM on January 10, 2006


Making profits or charging for access doesn't negate the importance or uniqueness of a publication

I don't disagree, and I do understand why people want to contribute to the OED, not least because you get to join a list of pretty distinguished contributors. I was just surprised they are still so reliant on voluntary help, and that that the volunteers don't even get, say, a free quarter subscription to the online dictionary (which runs at £50 for individuals), and made a sarcastic comment to that effect.

I do think that a credited paper in a magazine like Nature is pretty far removed from an uncredited citation in a dictionary in terms of importance for the contributors. (In terms of their careers if nothing else).

This did bring to mind a conversation I had with a friend who said that most academics he knew signed the contract to get their papers published exclusively in academic journals and then promptly turned round and put the.pdfs up on their personal web pages in order to ensure that they actually got read rather than being inaccessible within hugely expensive journals that university libraries have to pick and choose between as they can't afford to subscribe to them all.
posted by drill_here_fore_seismics at 8:57 AM on January 11, 2006


If they don't want to use the Cary Grant lines, there's a printed reference that's explicitly about gay men, mentioned here in the wiki on the word-- ... By 1963, the word "gay" was known well enough by the straight community to be used by Albert Ellis in his book The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Man-Hunting. ...
posted by amberglow at 10:59 PM on January 14, 2006


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