What does "mirror-shades group" mean? (Is it a solar power array, a school of science fiction, a slang word for "corporate raiders"?) Who first coined the word "factoid"? When and where does the "triple witching hour" occur? What do the acronyms DINK and NIMBY stand for? On what kid's show was the cry "Cowabunga" first heard? Why is the term "acupressure" something of a misnomer?
In The Oxford Dictionary of New Words, Sara Tulloch examines over two thousand new words and phrases that have become part of our daily lives in the last decade, in 750 articles that provide pronunciation, definition, etymology, informal history, and sample sentences. Drawing words from politics, the environmental movement, computers and technology, business, sports, entertainment, and many other areas, Tulloch goes beyond the usual informative but narrow dictionary entry to offer readers a rich history of the recent changes not only in our language but in our culture as well. Just skimming the headwords is like fast-forwarding through the eighties: bailout, cocooning, deniability, the disappeared, glasnost, lambada, safe sex, spin doctor, fun run, insider trading, genetic fingerprinting, thirtysomething, designer water, liposuction, Cablevision, gentrification, intifada, and DINK (Double Income, No Kids). And the histories that Tulloch provides are so interesting that even if you know the meaning of a word you will find the article fascinating. For instance, readers discover that the expression "Cowabunga," popularized most recently by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, dates back to the old "Howdy Doody Show" of the '50s; that "couch potato" was coined by Californian Tom Iacino (who also commends television-watching as "transcendental vegetation") and that the word "factoid" was coined by Norman Mailer in his book Marilyn; that the name of the Black South African party "Inkatha" comes from a Zulu word for a sacred head-ring believed to ensure solidarity; that the "cellular" in "cellular phone" refers to the small geographic sections or "cells" into which each operating area is divided; that "mouse" has been a computer term since 1965 and "mousse" has gone from dessert to hair styling product to the frothy oil-and-seawater mixture left behind oil spills; and that Lenin used the term "glasnost" to mean "freedom of information" half a century before Gorbachev did.
Here then is a resource that is both useful and intriguing, the first place to turn when faced with such new words and phrases as "acyclovir," "magnetic resonance imaging," "Alar" or "computer footprint," as well as a browser's delight, a goldmine of language for word lovers everywhere. [via]