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Oxford Arts Blog


Four times a year, OUP's free online dictionary OxfordDictionaries.com updates its list of words.

In the latest list of additions, announced today, there are a number of words used mainly by young people, often referring to food, drink and technology.

'New words, senses, and phrases are added to OxfordDictionaries.com when we have gathered enough independent evidence from a wide range of sources to be sure that they have widespread currency in the English language,' said Angus Stevenson of Oxford Dictionaries.

'This quarter's update shows that contemporary culture continues to have an undeniable and fascinating impact on the language.'

In a guest post, Kirsty Doole from Oxford Dictionaries takes us through some of the new entries:

'Today Oxford University Press announces the latest quarterly update to OxfordDictionaries.com, its free online dictionary of current English. Words from a wide variety of topics are included in this update, so whatever your field of interest, everyone should find something they think is awesomesauce.

Food and drink have provided a rich seam of new words this quarter, so if you’re feeling a bit hangry then pull up a chair in your local cat cafe or fast-casual restaurant and read on (but if you’re in the mood for something sweet then make sure they won’t charge you cakeage).  Why not try some barbacoa or freekeh? As for something to drink, if it’s not yet wine o’clock, then you could dissolve some matcha in hot water to make tea.

The linguistic influence of current events can be seen in a number of this update’s new entries, from Grexit and Brexit to swatting. We also see the addition of deradicalization, microaggression, and social justice warrior.

Technology and popular culture remain strong influences on language, and are reflected in new entries including rage quit, Redditor and subreddit, spear phishing, blockchain, and manic pixie dream girl.

How we consume information is exemplified by additions such as glanceable, skippable, and snackable. This quarter also sees the addition of the words mecha, pwnage, and kayfabe.

Other informal or slang terms added today include NBD (an abbreviation of ‘no big deal’), mkay, weak sauce, brain fart, and bruh. Several modern irritations take their place in OxfordDictionaries.com today: who can fail to be annoyed by manspreading, pocket dialling (or butt dialling), or those instances where you MacGyver something and it doesn’t quite work. Never mind, ignore the randos, and go home and cuddle up with your fur baby.

Don’t get butthurt about our bants! Research by the Oxford Dictionaries team has shown that all of the words, senses, and phrases added to OxfordDictionaries.com today have been absorbed into our language, hence their inclusion in this quarterly update. Mic drop.

The full meanings of these words, and the other additions, can be found at OxfordDictionaries.com.


Tweeting in Old English

Matt Pickles | 14 Aug 2015

An expert in Old English at Oxford is sharing Anglo-Saxon wisdom on Twitter – and the pithy thousand-year-old advice is proving popular with a new audience.

Dr Eleanor Parker, a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow based at TORCH | The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, studies literature produced in England during the eleventh and twelfth centuries and teaches Old English and Old Norse.

She began tweeting lines from Anglo-Saxon literature in May and has since picked up a loyal following of nearly 2,500 people.

Dr Parker says: 'I'm intrigued by how well this ancient tradition seems to work within the brand-new medium of Twitter, when they are (except in their fondness for brevity) almost exact opposites: Twitter thrives on the knee-jerk reaction and the swift reply, while wisdom literature is a genre which grows slowly, out of years, lifetimes, and centuries of human experience.

'But what medium and message have in common is the idea that something of value deserves to be shared: Gleawe men sceolon gieddum wrixlan, one poem famously says, "Wise men should exchange sayings".'

Dr Parker has quoted from sources including Beowulf, Alfred the Great, and a collection of proverbs held in Durham Cathedral.

'Some of the texts I'm quoting from are dedicated collections of proverbs and maxims, in poetry or prose, while some are single instances from longer texts; some are translations or versions of Latin texts, others have no known source; some are paralleled in later medieval English proverbs, some in other languages such as Old Norse,' she says.

'Some are so culturally specific that they may seem to offer nothing more to a modern audience than a historical curiosity. But others have much to say about subjects which are timeless: friendship, love and family; the right and wrong ways to use speech, strength, skill or knowledge; how to teach and how to learn; the experience of grief, loneliness, joy, and companionship; the value of patience, self-restraint, loyalty, and a generous heart.

'They celebrate both the riches which can be learned from books and the wisdom which can be earned through the simple act of living.'

Some of the proverbs are timeless pieces of advice which would not look out of place in a modern newspaper's 'Agony Aunt' column. The following come from the Durham Proverbs in Durham Cathedral:

Geþyld byþ middes eades.
Patience is half of happiness.

Æt þearfe mann sceal freonda to cunnian.
In time of need, a man finds out his friends.

Ne sceal man to ær forht ne to ær fægen.
One should not be too soon fearful nor too soon joyful.

Seo nydþearf feala læreð.
Necessity teaches many things.

Hwon gelpeð, se þe wide siþað.
Little boasts the one who travels widely.

But not all are as easy to apply in the 21st Century…

Ne mæg man muþ fulne melewes habban and eac fyr blawan.
No one can have a mouth full of flour and also blow on a fire.

Nu hit ys on swines dome, cwæð se ceorl sæt on eoferes hricge.
It's up to the pig now, said the man sat on the boar’s back.

Readers can follow @OEWisdom on Twitter and read more about the project on Dr Parker’s blog.


The "cradle of civilisation" is further east than you might have read in history textbooks at school, according to a new book by an Oxford academic.

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, which is published this month by Bloomsbury, has been written by Peter Frankopan, Director of the Centre for Byzantine Research in the University's History Faculty.

Described as a "major reassessment of world history", Dr Frankopan’s book shows the importance of the 'east' (i.e. the region between eastern Europe and China and India) in developing the world's civilisation and religions.

He looks at countries which were crossed by the 'Silk Roads', which were trading networks that connected the West to East and spread led to cultural transmission between the two areas.

He says countries along this route have been overlooked by history, such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, and Nepal. Even the role of India and China has been downplayed.

'While such countries may seem wild to us, these are no backwaters, no obscure wastelands,' he says. 'They are the very crossroads of civilisation. Far from being on the fringe of global affairs, these countries lie at its very centre — as they have done since the beginning of history.

'The Silk Roads were no exotic series of connections, but networks that linked continents and oceans together. ‘Along them flowed ideas, goods, disease and death. This was where empires were won – and where they were lost.'

Dr Frankopan says the prominence of western Europe since the 16th century caused this 'rewriting' of the past. 'Ancient Greece begat Rome, Rome begat Christian Europe, Christian Europe begat the Renaissance, the Renaissance begat the Enlightenment, the Enlightenment political democracy and the Industrial Revolution,' is how he describes this traditional assumption.

But in fact, it is actually western Europe, and Britain at its periphery, which was a relative 'backwater', he says. The Greeks and Romans had little interest in Europe, and letters sent home by Roman soldiers reveal that being sent to Europe or even Britain was an unwelcome prospect.

'The Greeks and Romans looked to the East,' says Dr Frankopan. 'Riches from the East paved the way for Rome's grandeur and the Silk Roads were the conduit for Eastern commerce, wealth, enlightenment and technology.'

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World can be ordered from Bloomsbury.


Reflecting on Hiroshima, 70 years later

Matt Pickles | 6 Aug 2015

70 years ago today, the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in Japan.

Professor Rana Mitter, an historian who specialises in the history and politics of China and Japan, and Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, explain the significance of the anniversary and the legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Professor Mitter says the memory of the bomb has put the Japanese population off the idea of nuclear weapons forever. 'The horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has so much ingrained itself in the popular consciousness in Japan that it seems to me impossible that they would ever find a way to have their own nuclear weapons,' he explains.

Professor Mitter puts the bombing in the context of Asia, rather than just looking at relations between the USA and Japan. 'What is often forgotten is that the lead-up to the A bomb against Japan was the Japanese invasion of large parts of Asia where over 14 million Chinese were killed.

'Therefore we have to remember, balancing the horror of Hiroshima which we’ve heard so much about today and must never be allowed to happen again, with the fact that there was a context which people in Asia still remember quite clearly.'

Professor Biggar applies the "Just War" theory in Christian theology to the events. He says: 'If the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to use the mass slaughter of civilians to terrorise the Japanese government into surrender, then that is immoral.

'If on the other hand the bombs were dropped to hit important military targets and there was no other way of hitting those targets other than endangering the lives of civilians, according to Just War thinking that could have been morally permissible. Which of those two cases fits the facts, you would have to ask an historian. I suspect it was the first.'

He adds: 'From the beginning Christians have disagreed about whether following Jesus means you can use force on any occasion. I think that one may use it under certain circumstances but only as a last resort, never in vengeance and only as strictly necessary.'

Professor Mitter was interviewed about Hiroshima on the Today programme (at 2 hours 53 minutes) and Professor Biggar on All Things Considered, both on Radio 4.

Indian Arrivals

Elleke Boehmer is Professor of World Literature in Oxford University's Faculty of English Language and Literature. She is also a published novelist. She has recently brought out a novel and will publish a major academic book in September. Professor Boehmer tells Arts Blog that each kind of writing can help the other.

AB: Your latest novel, The Shouting in the Dark (Sandstone Press), has just been published. Is it difficult to write fiction alongside writing academic books?

EB: Yes, the business of producing more than one kind of writing probably does look challenging, and there definitely are different demands on your energy and focus when you're writing fiction as against when you're writing academic books.

In fiction, there is more of a demand to keep the writing concentrated in whatever centre of consciousness, of the character or the narrator, that you as a writer are dealing with. In The Shouting in the Dark this definitely is the case, and I reworked the book nearly twenty times to get it absolutely right.

In academic writing the push is to stand a little to the side of the material and analyse. But ultimately in both kinds of writing, the thinking is happening through the writing. My gut feeling is that similar parts of the brain are firing.

It took me a while to come to this understanding though. I've been writing fiction alongside non-fiction for over 25 years now, and at first I did tend to think two different kinds of processes were involved. Thinking that used to make me feel very tired!

Can writing fiction improve your non-fiction writing or are they very separate things?

Definitely the different kinds of writing can help each other out. The things you learn about controlling language, and the structure of 'thought units', like paragraphs, work across and between the different strands.

Are there ways in which your research has informed your novels?

Yes, research does inform my novels, especially when I get fascinated by a topic I'm researching, but this isn't always beneficial for the fiction. One of my novels, Bloodlines, published in 2000, had as its imaginative springboard the fact that Irish republican soldiers fought in the Anglo-Boer War in 1899-1902, and mingled while in the Transvaal with local people.

I got stuck into a huge amount of research, including in the National Library of Ireland, which was very enjoyable, but in the end the research perhaps weighed too heavily on the story element.

Marina Warner calls this the green light of the study lamp shining through.  With fiction, character or voice has to convince, not the scholarship.

Your next academic book, Indian Arrivals, 1870-1915 (OUP), comes out in September. What is it about?

Indian Arrivals 1870-1915 is about turn of the century Indian travellers who wound their way through Suez to Britain, and the interesting and unexpected impacts that had on cultural and literary life over here, including shaping London's sense of itself as cosmopolitan and modern.

If, as is now widely accepted, vocabularies of inhabitation, education, citizenship and the law were in many cases developed in colonial spaces like India, and imported into Britain, then, the book suggests, the presence of Indian travellers and migrants needs to be seen as much more central to Britain’s understanding of itself, both in historical terms and in relation to the present-day.

The book demonstrates how the colonial encounter in all its ambivalence and complexity inflected social relations throughout the empire, including at its heart.

What sources did you use when researching the book?

Particularly useful sources were the manuscripts of the poets Sarojini Naidu and Rabindranath Tagore, which revealed how their work was frequently composed and translated en route, while travelling, and often on ships, so their works literally were 'travelling' documents. 

I also read many English language newspapers of the time, including from India, which showed how cosmopolitan educated Indians felt they were, even when they hadn't yet left their homeland.  The censuses of 1901 and 1911 were also very revealing, reflecting how surprisingly many people with Indian surnames lived around Britain's docklands at this time.


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