Are the New Entrants to Oxford Dictionaries Weak Sauce?

Oxford's update of its online dictionaries proves more than anything that its editors are behind the curve of the modern English lexicon.

OXFORD, ENGLAND - MAY 5: HM Queen Elizabeth II waves as she departs after visiting the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, during a one day visit to Oxford on May 5, 2006 in Oxfordshire, England. (Photo by Andrew Stuart/Getty Images)
OXFORD, ENGLAND - MAY 5: HM Queen Elizabeth II waves as she departs after visiting the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, during a one day visit to Oxford on May 5, 2006 in Oxfordshire, England. (Photo by Andrew Stuart/Getty Images)
OXFORD, ENGLAND - MAY 5: HM Queen Elizabeth II waves as she departs after visiting the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, during a one day visit to Oxford on May 5, 2006 in Oxfordshire, England. (Photo by Andrew Stuart/Getty Images)

Oxford University Press, the largest and most highbrow university press in the world, updated one of its online dictionaries Thursday in an attempt to stay up to date on some millennial terms: weak sauce, brain fart, and beer o’clock. Too bad those left the lexicon of cool years ago.

The Oxford English Dictionary, which bills itself as the most comprehensive collection of English words and phrases, is more concerned with the sanctity of formal language than with trying to catch up to a society decreasingly concerned with formality. That’s where its more hipster stepsister, Oxford Dictionaries, which tracks and collects words circulating in modern language, comes in.

Of the 1,000 new words included in the latest revision of the online dictionary, some are certainly more deserving of space than others.

Oxford University Press, the largest and most highbrow university press in the world, updated one of its online dictionaries Thursday in an attempt to stay up to date on some millennial terms: weak sauce, brain fart, and beer o’clock. Too bad those left the lexicon of cool years ago.

The Oxford English Dictionary, which bills itself as the most comprehensive collection of English words and phrases, is more concerned with the sanctity of formal language than with trying to catch up to a society decreasingly concerned with formality. That’s where its more hipster stepsister, Oxford Dictionaries, which tracks and collects words circulating in modern language, comes in.

Of the 1,000 new words included in the latest revision of the online dictionary, some are certainly more deserving of space than others.

Cat café” (quite literally, a cafe where one can go enjoy coffee alongside cats) is probably self-explanatory enough that it doesn’t need its own spot in the dictionary. One also wonders why any branch of Oxford would give credence to such a silly venue at all. Unless a word shows continued historical use, it won’t be considered for admission to the loftier OED.

However, a number of additions are more politically and socially relevant to daily English-language discussions. “Deradicalization,” for example, describes the process of someone accepting moderate political, social, or religious views over extremes. “Mx,” an alternative title for someone who prefers to remain gender neutral, signals social progress — even if it was first used more than 40 years ago.

Grexit” and “Brexit,” which are increasingly used in media to describe the possibility of a Greek exit from the eurozone and a British exit from the European Union, respectively, were also included. Considering ongoing questions about the EU’s viability, it’s not at all clear whether either word has staying power conversationally — let alone in the dictionary.

Other newly added terms nail down clear definitions of what exactly happens within the Internet’s growing sphere of influence, which could be handy in courts of law.

Spear phishing” (defined by Oxford as “the fraudulent practice of sending emails ostensibly from a known or trusted sender in order to induce targeted individuals to reveal confidential information”), for example, and “blockchain” (“a digital ledger in which transactions made in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency are recorded chronologically and publicly”) were both included in the August update. “Redditor” and “subreddit,” both terms related to the use of the social and news-gathering website Reddit, also made the cut.

And then there’s “manspreading,” a follow-up to last year’s “mansplain,” which gives an official name to what exactly a man does on public transport when he adopts “a sitting position with his legs wide apart, in such a way as to encroach on an adjacent seat or seats.” There’s an entire Tumblr page dedicated to documenting instances of manspreading. By contrast, mansplaining is when a man explains a topic, usually to a woman, in a way that is perceived as condescending.

Still others — “bitch face,” “mic drop,” “butthurt”,” and “pwn,” to name a few — seem like words English speakers don’t necessarily need to enshrine as permanent members of the language’s terminology.

And then the editors just had to go and include “awesomesauce,” a nerdy, old-school alternative to the much simpler “awesome.” The term is old enough to have suspected ties to Homestar Runner, a once-viral series of online cartoons that most people have by now forgotten about. “Awesomesauce” was published on UrbanDictionary.com more than a decade before Oxford decided to include it. (As an aside, it’s worth looking up UrbanDictionary.com’s definition for the OED.)

Perhaps, then, the takeaway is not just the new definitions for modern readers, but that Oxford is #sobusted — and close to a decade behind the urban lingo curve.

Photo credit: Andrew Stuart/Getty Images

Correction, Aug. 27, 2015: The term “Grexit” refers to a Greek exit from the eurozone. An earlier version of this article mistakenly said it referred to a Greek exit from the European Union.

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