From aardvark to woke: inside the Oxford English Dictionary

Pippa Bailey in New Statesman:

The team at the Oxford English Dictionary felt some nervousness about writing the definition for “Terf”, an acronym for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, which this month has been added to its pages. “To a certain extent, it is like any other word,” says Fiona McPherson, a 50-year-old lexicographer from Grangemouth, Stirlingshire, who has worked at the dictionary since 1997. “But it would be disingenuous to say that it is exactly the same. There seems more at stake. You want to be accurate, you want to be neutral. But it’s a lot easier to be neutral about a word that isn’t controversial.”

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has served as a lexical record of the world’s most widely spoken language – and its culture – since it was founded in the mid-19th century. “Post-truth”, for example, was the dictionary’s word of 2016, the year of Brexit and Trump, while in 2020 it elected not to choose one – because no single word could sum up the pandemic experience. Last year, “police brutality”, “deadname”, “cancel culture” and “anti-vaxxer” entered the dictionary for the first time; previous years gave us “fake news” (2019), “Silent Generation” (2018) and “woke” (2017).

The June 2022 update includes several terms that reflect our changing understanding of sexuality and gender: “multisexual”, “pangender”, “gender expression”, “gender presentation” and “enby” (derived from “NB”, meaning “non-binary”), as well as Terf.

More here.