Oxford editors put in a word for Major

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JOHN MAJOR, no dweeb he, does have a political philosophy. From next month one can look it up in the dictionary, though the definition may not leave students of political science much the wiser.

Majorism is one of 4,000 new words in the latest edition of the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, to be published by Oxford University Press next month. It is defined as 'the political and economic policies of the British Conservative politician John Major (b 1943) who became Prime Minister in 1990'.

The definition joins other Nineties linguistic innovations, many of them somewhat aggressive, such as dweeb ('a person who is boringly conventional, puny or studious'), divvy (foolish), gonzo (crazy person) and scuzz (unpleasant person).

The editors, who may or may not have spent time in the cheap seats at this summer's Test matches, also include the odd geographical insult, most notably ocker ('rough, uncultivated or aggressively boorish Australian man').

And not before time there is a dictionary definition of that overworked phrase, invariably used with a curl of the lip, the chattering classes. It or they are defined as 'a derogatory term for the articulate professional people given to free expression of (esp liberal) opinions on society and culture'.

Other contemporary phenomena to receive the official blessing include cereologist (student or investigator of crop circles) and, getting extremely quick recognition, grunge ('a style of rock music characterised by a raucous guitar sound and lazy delivery').

Siblicide, on the other hand (the killing of a young bird by a fellow nestling) feels as though it should have been around for several centuries but, according to the editors, birdwatchers have only recently brought it to their attention.

The world of business and finance provides a rich variety of new offerings such as onsell, taxflation and zaibatsu (from the Japanese zai, meaning wealth, and batsu, meaning clique).

The dictionary, in two volumes containing 500,000 definitions, took up to 16 full-time lexicographers plus numerous researchers and advisers 13 years to compile at a cost of pounds 3m.

Alan Hughes, one of two general editors at Oxford University Press who helped to produce the dictionary, said of the most famous new entry: 'We discovered that Majorism was being used in the press, and since established usage is the main criterion for inclusion of words, we put it in.'

He said words can be dropped if they lack currency - so there is no guarantee that Majorism will endure as long as Thatcherism, one of the most famous political definitions of the century. But Mr Hughes says: 'Words often have historical significance, so even if they become obsolete they stay in. Majorism might be there for a long time.'

He adds that the new shorter dictionary, unlike the much larger Oxford English Dictionary, actually dates words; and new research on this has shown several words to be considerably older than previously thought. Womanless, which the OED says is mid 19th century, has been found to date back to 15th century middle English. And latrine, thought to be a 17th-century invention, has been found in manuscripts dated around 1400.

There is rather less authentication for squodgy, meaning soft and soggy. But, as Mr Hughes says, 'it is a very evocative word'.