Dictionaries move with the times in a way few other books do. Photo: Getty
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The joy of dictionaries

To see how the world has changed, look no further than the dictionary.

You could write a history of the world just by looking at the words that got into the dictionary, and disappeared from it. You would of course have your great scientific advances: oxygen, aeroplane, penicillin, and boob job. But politics would play its part, for it was the world of politics that gave us Cold War, glasnost, ayatollah and suicide bomber. New habits make themselves known through phrases like sofa-surfing and texting. And art and music can be seen with the arrival of impressionism, ragtime, heavy metal, hip-hop, and emo. New social types arrive. Before the 1980s there was no such thing as a Sloane Ranger or a yuppie (from “Young Urban Professional”). And the 1990s gave us Britpop and ethnic cleansing.

Sometimes these words merely involve a new label applied to something that already exists. The teenager was never heard of before 1942. This doesn’t mean that the ages thirteen to nineteen didn’t exist before then. It was merely that they weren’t considered that important. You were a child and then you were a young man or woman. You played with toys, then you put those toys away and got yourself a job. The teenage phenomenon could only start when the teenagers were separated out by language. They were given a name and with it they were given an identity and very soon they were able to listen to teenage music, dress in teenage fashions, and do teenage things like dancing and sulking.

And with the rise of computers we have had the rise of the geek. Geek was originally a Scots dialect word (“geck”) that meant a fool or a simpleton. But slowly it became an insult, a term for an unsociable and boring student. And from there it has been reclaimed as a badge of honour for anybody who really understands computers and their strange ways. Now we have geek, geeky, and geekspeak, and this edition introduces geekery, geekism, and geek chic: “a fashion style believed to be characteristic of geeks, including the wearing of heavy-rimmed glasses and T-shirts with humorous slogans”. The fool has become fashionable. This dictionary contains 51,000 entries that have never appeared before. That’s the largest number that has ever been added to a new edition of Collins. As you can, no doubt, imagine, there are much too many to give a full and detailed account of everything that’s gone in, and why. We can leave that task to some future scholar who will pore over it all from his future study trying to work out what on earth went on in 2014. It’s too much for any one person even to remember them all. Some new words have been included for reasons that are prosaically obvious. The olinguito is a kind of racoon that lives in the cloud forests of the Andes. It crawls around among the foggy branches, and only does so at night, which probably explains why it was not discovered until 2013. And a year later it has crawled into the dictionary. The same thing goes for the lesula, a species of monkey found only in a small part of the Congo, which managed to go undiscovered for centuries despite having a strangely human face slightly resembling Edith Sitwell, and bright blue buttocks.

Just one of the new words to be added

Other new additions are technological. Indeed, this is the first time that the word technophilia – “enthusiasm for technology and the latest technological devices” – has appeared. It’s a close neighbour of textonym – a word that can be generated using the same numbers on a keypad – and Twittersphere.

Not all of the new words in this dictionary, though, are new. Some are old words which have been excluded for too long. Beautiful old words like slumbersome, which is a much better way of saying “sleepy”. It’s those soft, soothing S’s that send you off to slumberland, another new-old word that means “the domain of sleep”. Some of these are charming and elegant like the raconteuse, or “female raconteur”. Or perhaps eyesome, which means “pleasing to the eye”.

And other words are almost comical in their inelegance. Sitting glumly in the corner is quonk, which is a broadcasting term for any noise accidentally picked up on a microphone. There’s something so awkward and dumpy about the sound of quonk that it fits perfectly into its role. There’s the noop, which is the very tip of the elbow; and there’s the haffet, which is a part of the face in front of and above the ear.

A page or so further on and you get the horrors of the hagrider, which is a person or thing that causes fear and apprehension. I could blather on through all 50,000-plus additions, but for the moment, let us stick to the simple, newly included phrase nuff said.

This is an excerpt from “The Joy of Dictionaries” by Mark Forsyth, featured exclusively in Collins English Dictionary 12th edition, published 23 October 2014. Mark Forsyth is the bestselling author of The Etymologicon, The Horologicon, and The Elements of Eloquence.

Collins are offering a special launch discount: £15 off the cover price, plus free P&P. Please go to and key in code CO2014 at the checkout. Offer valid until 30 November 2014

Mark Forsyth is the bestselling author of The Etymologicon, The Horologicon, and The Elements of Eloquence.

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SRSLY #13: Take Two

On the pop culture podcast this week, we discuss Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth, the recent BBC adaptations of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Cider with Rosie, and reminisce about teen movie Shakespeare retelling She’s the Man.

This is SRSLY, the pop culture podcast from the New Statesman. Here, you can find links to all the things we talk about in the show as well as a bit more detail about who we are and where else you can find us online.

Listen to our new episode now:

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SRSLY is hosted by Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz, the NS’s web editor and editorial assistant. We’re on Twitter as @c_crampton and @annaleszkie, where between us we post a heady mixture of Serious Journalism, excellent gifs and regularly ask questions J K Rowling needs to answer.

The podcast is also on Twitter @srslypod if you’d like to @ us with your appreciation. More info and previous episodes on

If you’d like to talk to us about the podcast or make a suggestion for something we should read or cover, you can email srslypod[at]

You can also find us on Twitter @srslypod, or send us your thoughts on tumblr here. If you like the podcast, we'd love you to leave a review on iTunes - this helps other people come across it.

The Links

On Macbeth

Ryan Gilbey’s review of Macbeth.

The trailer for the film.

The details about the 2005 Macbeth from the BBC’s Shakespeare Retold series.


On Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Cider with Rosie

Rachel Cooke’s review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Sarah Hughes on Cider with Rosie, and the BBC’s attempt to create “heritage television for the Downton Abbey age”.


On She’s the Man (and other teen movie Shakespeare retellings)

The trailer for She’s the Man.

The 27 best moments from the film.

Bim Adewunmi’s great piece remembering 10 Things I Hate About You.


Next week:

Anna is reading Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner.


Your questions:

We loved talking about your recommendations and feedback this week. If you have thoughts you want to share on anything we've discussed, or questions you want to ask us, please email us on srslypod[at], or @ us on Twitter @srslypod, or get in touch via tumblr here. We also have Facebook now.



The music featured this week, in order of appearance, is:


Our theme music is “Guatemala - Panama March” (by Heftone Banjo Orchestra), licensed under Creative Commons. 



See you next week!

PS If you missed #12, check it out here.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

Anna Leszkiewicz is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.