The 5,000 "new" words in the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary say more about the glacial pace of lexicography than about the age of the words.
There are freshly minted terms such as AIDS-related, anti-quark, fax, Filofax and ghetto-blaster; words or word senses redolent of the 1960s such as acid, downer, grok and chopper; and jazz-age coinages such as Big Apple.There's even one new word from Anglo-Saxon: "ash," the symbol that combines the letters A and E.
The second edition, to be published March 29, reflects more than a century of scholarly labor.
It pulls together the 400,000 entries in the first edition, completed between 1879 and 1928; the first supplement of 1933; the four-volume second supplement of 1972-1986; and the 5,000 new entries.
That chronology explains why the OED took so long to catch up with "Big Apple," New York City's nickname.
The first use of the term recorded by the dictionary is in 1927, though "we've since heard there was record of it in 1906," said John Simpson, the co-editor responsible for new words in the second edition.
"Now, in the first edition of OED the letter B came out in 1885, 1886, so (Big Apple) wasn't available for inclusion then.
"I think it was a pity it wasn't included in the supplement. Perhaps it wasn't really widely well known. I don't know."
Simpson also doesn't know why his entry for "Pythonesque," inspired by the satirical lunacies of comedy troupe called Monty Python's Flying Circus, was ultimately rejected by Robert Burchfield, editor of the second supplement.
"So I thought, I've had enough of that, so I put it back in again for the second edition," Simpson said. "Nobody objected so it's gone in."
Also inducted: acid rain, acupressure, barf, bleeper, creation science, detox, Diner's Club, dingbat, duty-free, endangered, est, fast track, foxy, Great Leap Forward, greenmail, lap-top, nose job, passive smoking, plastic money and Visa.
From now on, the 20-volume dictionary will be subject to rapid updating because this edition was prepared on a computer. Oxford University Press hopes to offer it on computer discs by 1991.
The computer version will solve the age-old problem of looking up a word you can't remember. The computer can look for definitions and much more.
The basic work of lexicography, however, is still done on index cards, now numbering in excess of 3 million, each containing a quotation found by a paid or volunteer reader to illustrate the use of a word.
The method is the same used by James A.H. Murray, the first editor of the OED, who took on what was supposed to be a 10-year task in 1879 and had completed the letter T at his death in 1915.
Murray, who in photos looks like an Old Testament figure in mortarboard and long white beard, instructed his researchers to "make a quotation for every word that strikes you as rare, obsolete, old-fashioned, new, peculiar or used in a peculiar way." They were also asked to produce as many quotations as possible for ordinary words.
The OED surveys English from the middle of the 12th century, and the research net covered the United States, Australasia, India and the English-speaking parts of Africa and the Caribbean.
"We regard the OED as an international dictionary now," said co-editor Edmund Weiner.