August 18, 2011 / 11:54 AM / 6 years ago

Wordplay: from growleries to woots and beyond

4 Min Read

LONDON (Reuters) - Are you familiar with the brabble of cockyolly birds in the growlery?

Probably not, but now this forgotten terminology has been revived in a limited edition facsimile of the 1911 Concise Oxford Dictionary (COD), published to mark the centenary of the linguistic treasure trove.

The reprint appears alongside a new 12th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (COED), which contains more than 240,000 words, phrases and definitions, including 400 completely new entries.

Clad in an art deco cover, the 1911 limited-edition dictionary offers a glimpse into a world where a "jet" was a stream of water, and the words "cockyolly bird," "growlery," and "brabble" referred to a nursery phrase for a bird, a private room or den, and a noisy quarrel.

"The 1911 dictionary is a lot smaller than the latest version and is phrased more quaintly in some places, but my overriding impression of it is how good it was," Angus Stevenson, an editor of the 12th edition of the COED, told Reuters.

Unlike the vast, high-tech database of texts and articles used today to analyze language, the editors of the first dictionary used rather more laborious methods.

The first editors, brothers Henry and George Fowler, wrote letters to friends and experts and drew on the work done for the Oxford English Dictionary to compile the first concise version of the book from their cottage on the Channel Island of Guernsey.

"They tried hard to be as up to date as possible," Stevenson said. "They included the entry 'aeroplane,' even though the first flight had been made in 1903, and 'Duma', even though the Russian parliament had only been created in 1906 -- it was a very good dictionary."

Some of the slang in the 1911 edition, including "shirty" for annoyed and "parky" for cold, is still in use today.

"Although these terms might be considered a little old fashioned, they were cutting-edge Edwardian slang, and their inclusion shows how progressive the Fowlers were in their editing," Stevenson said.

Together, the 12 editions provide a fascinating record of the influx of new words into the English language over the past century.

"Computer" was not recognized in 1911 - in contrast to the entries found in the 2011 version, such as "cyberbullying" and "retweet," which reflect the growing influence of the internet on the use of language.

"Social networking sites have created a real language of the net. We've noticed that new words come into currency much more quickly as a result of the internet, as people see friends, or friends of friends, using new words and copy them," Stevenson said.

Varieties of English spoken around the world are also becoming less distinct as a consequence of increased global connectivity through the World Wide Web, he added.

The latest edition of the COED covers English spoken in India, as well as Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies and America.

"There used to be very little American in the dictionaries. It was a variety of English distinct from that spoken in Britain, but now the versions are merging together." Stevenson said.

A prime example of this is "woot" -- an exclamation used predominantly online to express elation, enthusiasm or triumph.

"The expression 'woot' began in America but was picked up very quickly by people in Britain, as a result of the internet breaking down international boundaries," Stevenson said.

"I don't know why people can't just say 'hurrah' but maybe I'm being old fashioned."

Editing by Steve Addison

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