8 February 2018

A host of parenting words amongst those to become part of the Oxford English Dictionary family

30th January 2018, Oxford, UK - the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) announces itslatest update, which includes over 1,100 new entries, phrases and senses.

OED adds a brood of new parenting words

Included in the update are over a hundred words relating to pregnancy,childbirth, and childcare.  From TTC to VBAC, cry-it-out to baby-led-weaning, the language of parenting is as diverse as the opinions expressed about these topics. Many terms that are everyday vocabulary for millions of parents are relatively recent coinages, so weren’t included in earlier editions of the OED. These newer arrivals reflect not only medical advances, but also developments in how we think about children and view their place in our society. The OED was keen to capture the imprint of these changes and developments on the English language.

For specialist vocabulary, from archery to zoology, the OED draws on the assistance of experts. For the language of parenting, parents themselves are the experts, and can reveal a broader range of terms than any single self-styled parenting guru or one or other partisan school of thought. For that reason, the OED team took its search to online parenting forum, Mumsnet, to ask which words and phrases should be considered for inclusion. The responses were as broad in scope as they were diverse in nature: and the interest of these words (to non-parents, as well as parents) lies in the fact that they reveal the full range of parenting experience – from everyday routines to life-changing moments – using the widest array of language - slang, colloquialisms, medical language, abbreviations.
The update includes a number of terms associated with TTC (trying to conceive), including a large number of initialisms used chiefly online. These include BFN, standing for ‘big fat negative’, BFP (‘big fat positive’) - used mostly online to report or talk about the results of a pregnancy test - and to pee on a stick, a colloquialism for taking that pregnancy test. Aunt Flo is a punning euphemism for the menstrual period.  

The word babymoon was originally used to describe the time following the birth of a baby during which the parents can focus on establishing a bond with their baby but is now more frequently used to describe a relaxing holiday taken by parents-to-be before their baby is born.  Less enjoyable experiences associated with pregnancy include baby brain, a supposed state of impaired memory or concentration during pregnancy or after giving birth, and gestational diabetes, used to describe elevated glucose level in the blood during pregnancy. 

The update includes words that reflect the many and varied approaches to parenting, such as baby-led weaning and helicopter parenting.  The former is a method of weaning allowing a baby to eat food by him or herself as opposed to being spoon-fed, while the latter is the practice of being a parent who takes an excessive interest in the life of his or her child, especially with regard to education.  Other entries include CIO or cry-it-out, a method of sleep training, and co-sleeper, a child sleeping in the same room as the parental bed. 

Words with regional differences also appear. Some may be familiar: the term nappy bag is used in the UK while in the US the same item is called a diaper bag.  But few outside the U.S. may know that diaper cake describes a gift given to expectant or new parents made up of items for the new baby; and the phrase too posh to push seems to be both characteristically and exclusively British. 

In her blog post on the project, OED Senior Editor Fi Mooring comments: “these words reflect personal experiences but many of them also resonate much more widely, even with people who are not parents. The distinctive lexicon of parenting maps a whole range of human experience, from immense joy to immeasurable sorrow and, considering its relevance to so much of the population it seemed an underrepresented category of vocabulary in the Dictionary.”

Some other parenting abbreviations, words and terms:

Pump and dump: to express and discard breast milk, typically following the ingestion of alcohol or medication that might be harmful to an infant.

SAHM (noun): stay-at-home-mum, a mother who does not go out to work.

Push present (noun): a gift given to a woman shortly after she has given birth, typically by her spouse or partner.

Balance bike (noun): type of learner’s bicycle with no pedals or training wheels.

Just a decade ago, the word mansplain did not exist, but the verb (of a man: to explain something needlessly, overbearingly, or condescendingly, especially to a woman, in a manner thought to reveal a patronizing or chauvinistic attitude) and the concept it describes now have a firm foothold in the language. OED’s earliest evidence (to date) occurs in a pair of comments on the social networking website LiveJournal in August 2008. In the exchange, a woman “thanks” a (male) blog commentator for mansplaining to her, and in his (slightly stung) response he questions whether it was really mansplaining (apparently the first use of the noun mansplaining).  If those really are the first occurrences of the verb mansplain or the noun mansplaining (in quick succession), then this is a rare example of seeing linguistic creativity in action, and perhaps an insight into what can drive such innovation.

Becoming prominent in recent years, especially on social media, snowflake is a derogatory term with roots in more positive connotations. The OED’s entry traces snowflake back to 1983, referring to a person, especially a child, regarded as having a unique personality and potential. Over time, the term’s meaning has shifted, and snowflake has come to be used as an insulting term for a person characterised as overly sensitive or as feeling entitled to special treatment or consideration. In this way, the original idea of a snowflake’s uniqueness has been displaced by allusion to its fragility.

Do you crave me time?  Do you get hangry?  Both words have found their way into the OED update.  The first means time devoted to doing what one wants (typically on one’s own) and considered important in reducing stress or restoring energy, the latter is an adjective meaning ‘bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger’. 

Selfie (as a noun) has been in the OED since 2014, but selfy adj. is now added for the first time.  Selfy is rare in modern use but dates to the 17th century as a Scottish word meaning ‘self-centred’ or ‘selfish’.  Dozens of new entries derived from self- prefix have been added to the dictionary in this update, including self-published, self-deport, self-identified, self-radicalization, and self-determinism.

Oh, to live the chaebol life…  In South Korea, a chaebol is a large business conglomerate, usually owned and controlled by one family, for example Samsung or Hyundai.  Use of chaebol is attested from the 1970s in English, but it has more recently come to be used allusively to refer to a luxurious lifestyle associated with the families who own such businesses.

The word deglobalization (the reversal or decline of globalization), seems particularly salient at a moment when there is growing scepticism in some quarters about international institutions. It is first attested in English from 1968, but has become notably more common over the past two decades.

Images credited to Oxford University Press

The OED is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of over 829,000 words, senses, and compounds – past and present – from across the English-speaking world. As a historical dictionary, the OED is very different from those of current English, in which the focus is on present-day meanings. You'll still find these in the OED, but you'll also find the history of individual words, and of the language – traced through over 3.3 million quotations, from classic literature and specialist periodicals to film scripts and cookery books. View OED FAQs here.

The OED requires several independent examples of the word being used, and also evidence that the word has been in use for a reasonable amount of time. The exact time-span and number of examples may vary: for instance, one word may be included on the evidence of only a few examples, spread out over a long period of time, while another may gather momentum very quickly, resulting in a wide range of evidence in a shorter space of time. We also look for the word to reach a level of general currency where it is unselfconsciously used with the expectation of being understood: that is, we look for examples of uses of a word that are not immediately followed by an explanation of its meaning for the benefit of the reader. We have a large range of words under constant review, and as items are assessed for inclusion in the dictionary, words which have not yet accumulated enough evidence are kept on file, so that we can refer back to them if further evidence comes to light.


Oxford University Press, a department of the University of Oxford, furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. The world's largest and most international university press, Oxford University Press currently publishes more than 6,000 new publications per year, has offices in around fifty countries, and employs some 7,000 people worldwide. It has become familiar to millions through a diverse publishing programme that includes scholarly works in all academic disciplines, bibles, music, school and college textbooks, children's books, materials for teaching English as a foreign language, business books, dictionaries and reference books, and journals. Moreinformation about Oxford University Press.

Oxford University Press (UK) Disclaimer
This message is confidential. You should not copy it or disclose its contents to anyone. You may use and apply the information for the intended purpose only. OUP does not accept legal responsibility for the contents of this message. Any views or opinions presented are those of the author only and not of OUP. If this email has come to you in error, please delete it, along with any attachments. Please note that OUP may intercept incoming and outgoing email communications.

Oxford University Press (UK) Disclaimer
This message is confidential. You should not copy it or disclose its contents to anyone. You may use and apply the information for the intended purpose only. OUP does not accept legal responsibility for the contents of this message. Any views or opinions presented are those of the author only and not of OUP. If this email has come to you in error, please delete it, along with any attachments. Please note that OUP may intercept incoming and outgoing email communications.


No comments

Post a Comment

Blog Layout Designed by pipdig