Teams of editors and readers at the Oxford and Collins dictionaries have spent the past 12 months watching for words and meanings that have come of age in 1996. Many first made their mark in science and technology; others are already in common usage but have new meanings.
Only words judged to have achieved currency are welcomed into the dictionaries. Candidates from 1996 include dumbsizing, a term describing the streamlining of a company taken to damaging extremes; trolley wars, referring to aggressive competition between supermarkets; and sticker shock, a nasty surprise received by the consumer from a price increase. (In the US, this expression has also been applied to the unexpected cost of health care.)
A quarter of a million new citations were considered by the Oxford English Dictionary, collected from publications as diverse as the lively engineering trade paper, Boring News, and the journal of the cremation industry, Resurgam.
Among the technical terms brought to prominence this year are Intranet, a local computer network, and freeriding, which made its first appearance outside the pages of Snowboard magazine. Andropause, a term for the male menopause, has made a similar move from publications devoted to chemical pathology into Sainsbury's magazine and Vanity Fair.
Michael Profitt, co-ordinator of the OED reading programme, says that one of the problems with "new" terms is that they often turn out to have been coined long ago. For example, his researchers found that "politically correct" was used as far back as 1793, and also discovered century-old examples of the expression "to die for".
Alcopop has been tracked back to Seventies Australia, and the OED has been monitoring its progress: "It arrived at the very end of 1995 and then faded in the middle of the year, but it was back around September when the controversy arose again." A survey of playground language published in August by the OED and Dillons recorded other Australian borrowings, such as blat, a term for a bike ride which children have taken from Neighbours.
Japanese is the language from which English is borrowing most enthusiastically. "Japanese management philosophy is a fertile area for new words," explains Mr Profitt. "Keiretsu - a corporate term for linked businesses with cross- shareholdings - has really grown in popularity this year."
Some borrowings have infiltrated English disguised as native constructions: nutraceutical - a recently coined word used to describe a foodstuff containing beneficial additives - is a direct translation of a Japanese term.
While medicine and technology continued to produce fresh jargon in 1996, some fields have failed to deliver their usual crop of neologisms. "It's been a quiet year for financial vocabulary," Mr Profitt reflects. "Music is usually a fertile ground, but there hasn't been too much this year."
He doubts whether his researchers will find enough citations for loungecore (easy listening), Romo (the New Romantic revival) or low-fi (Indie music that rejects plush production values) to get them into the third edition of the OED, due for completion in 2005. The files contain thousands of such words, submitted by readers and correspondents, which lack the required evidence of quotation.Reuse content