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June Casagrande

Great news, everyone! The Oxford English Dictionary has finally — finally — added a verb form to its definition of “clatfart.” That’s right. The noun we all love, meaning “gossip,” is now also a verb meaning “gossip.” And it’s not just intransitive, as in, “Excuse us while we clatfart,” but it also has a transitive sense, meaning it can take a direct object: “Please don’t clatfart the news of our growing family just yet.” Finally!

What’s that, you say? You weren’t aware people use “clatfart” as a verb? And what’s that, you say? You weren’t aware the word existed in the first place?

Don’t feel bad. It’s new to me, too. But it just goes to show you how much fun and learning there is to be had by skimming lists of words and word senses added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The OED has a unique mission. It’s a “historical dictionary.” Its purpose is to form “a record of all the core words and meanings in English over more than 1,000 years, from Old English to the present day, and including many obsolete and historical terms.”

Other dictionaries remove words as they fall out of use. It’s part of their mission to offer a practical guide to how you can use English in accordance with modern standards. The OED is more like a historical record of words used by English speakers. Its additions aren’t always new words. Some are newly added as the result of historical language research.

Here are some of my favorites, old and new, the OED has added recently.

Ayuh. Tired of having few alternatives to the word “yes” but too lazy to make all four syllables of “affirmative”? Then you’ll find “ayuh” to be a great compromise. Use it anytime you want to express the opposite of “no.”

Brickbatting. A noun begets a verb that, in turn, begets a noun. Happens all the time. In this case, the noun brickbat, meaning a hard object like a brick that’s used as a missile or an uncomplimentary remark, gave us the verb brickbat, meaning to launch one of these physical or verbal weapons. And now it also comes in the form of a gerund, meaning an “ing” form of a verb that’s used as a noun. Use it with care.

Fannybaws. Insult words are the best words. And fannybaws has an especially nice ring to it. This noun means, per Oxford, “a stupid, annoying or unpleasant person.” Have this one locked and loaded for the office Christmas party.

Grognard. I like this one because it’s fun to say, not because it’s useful to me. Its new definition, an expert or long-standing player of war or role-playing video games, probably won’t come up in conversation any more than its longer-standing usage: an old soldier or a soldier in Napoleon’s army who was part of the final French charge at Waterloo.

Harambee. Don’t be alarmed, but you may already be a harambee attendee. Even if you know “harambee” is a verb from the Swahili that means “to pull together,” you may not know that it has also evolved into a noun with a modern and familiar resonance. “Harambee” now also means a fundraiser for charity.

Scholarment. This one seems designed solely to annoy. It means “scholarship” or “learning,” which is ironic considering how unscholarly it sounds: “That’s some fine scholarment you’ve acquired there.”

Schmancy. Lots of us have been using “fancy-schmancy” since we were kids. But now, at long last, the OED will bless your use of “schmancy” all by its lonesome to mean “extremely or excessively fancy, esp. in a pretentious or ostentatious way.” That should come in handy next time you want to schmancify your writing.

(June Casagrande is the author of “The Joy of Syntax: A Simple Guide to All the Grammar You Know You Should Know.” She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.)

 

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