Category: Factual & Arts TV
BBC TWO is asking viewers to join The
Wordhunt Project and help rewrite the Oxford
English Dictionary (OED), 'the greatest book in the English
A major series next year will present the results and
will be the biggest, boldest attempt yet to ask the nation, "Where
do words come from?".
Did you call someone a minger rather than just pig-ugly
before 1995? Did you sport a mullet and call it that before the 1994
Beastie Boys' song Mullet Head?
Were you dubbed the nit nurse before 1985? Line up school
nurses: scratch your heads and think. And, do you have the evidence
to prove it?
Two hundred and fifty years after Doctor Johnson wrote
his celebrated dictionary with the aid of just six helpers, the BBC
and the Oxford English Dictionary are joining forces for The Wordhunt
Project, and appealing to the nation to help solve some of the most
intriguing recent word mysteries in the language.
Wordhunters should log on to bbc.co.uk/wordhunt
to see how their evidence could be included in the OED.
Controller of BBC TWO, Roly Keating, says: "We're launching
a nationwide hunt for the origin of words and it's a fantastic opportunity
for viewers to contribute to a historic project.
"Any valid evidence will not only rewrite the Oxford
English Dictionary but will feed into a major series for BBC TWO on
the origin of words.
"The OED and this series promise a fascinating
and unique insight into British history."
The Oxford English Dictionary is appealing to the public
for a focussed effort on 50 words listed below.
The OED seeks to find the earliest verifiable usage
of every single word in the English language - currently 600,000 and
counting - and of every separate meaning of every word.
Quite a task! The 50 words on the appeal list all
have a date next to them - corresponding to the earliest evidence the
dictionary currently has for that word or phrase. Can you trump that?
Some hunches about where you might look for the words
are available on bbc.co.uk/wordhunt, so start hunting!
No dictionary is ever finished, so the appeal is also
for new words that aren't yet in the OED, but should be.
What do you think is the biggest word on your street
at the moment?
John Simpson, Chief Editor of the OED at Oxford University
Press, says: "In 1879, Sir James Murray, the Oxford English Dictionary's
original editor, appealed to 'the English-speaking and English-reading
public' for volunteers to hunt for evidence of words to be added to
"Thousands of people responded, helping to make
the OED 'the people's dictionary'. Nowadays, the OED is a huge research
project, with evidence coming in constantly from around the world, but
we still need that vital help from the public.
"We've selected 50 modern words which are puzzling
today's editors and we need people to get in touch to help solve these
To join the Wordhunt, you might find an earlier appearance
of the word in a book or a magazine, in a movie script, a fanzine, or
even in unpublished papers or letters or a post-marked postcard. It
might even appear first online or in a sound recording.
The most important thing is that it can be dated. Sometimes
the OED can't tell how a word was invented - so if you can fill us in
on that, so much the better.
We've indicated next to these words that they are 'origin
uncertain'. If you've got a convincing theory, the BBC would love to
hear from you. If you can prove you're right, you might help in rewriting
Your language needs you!
Notes to Editors
Please include the info required for people to submit their information
to the project. They can visit bbc.co.uk/wordhunt or email firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Oxford English Dictionary
The OED, published by Oxford University Press, is the accepted authority
on the evolution of the English language over the last millennium.
It is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation
of 600,000 words, both present and past. It traces the usage of words
through 2.5 million quotations from a wide range of international English
language sources: from classic literature and specialist periodicals,
to film scripts and cookery books.
The OED covers words from across the English-speaking world, from North
America to South Africa, from Australia and New Zealand to the Caribbean.
It also offers the best in etymological analysis and in listing of variant
spellings, and it shows pronunciation using the International Phonetic
The Second Edition of the OED is available as a 20-volume print edition,
on CD-ROM, and now also online at www.oed.com
The 50 Word Appeal:
back to square one (1960) *
balti (1984) *
boffin (1941) *
bomber jacket (1973)
to bonk (sexual intercourse) (1975)
bouncy castle (1986)
chattering classes (1985)
codswallop (1963) *
ditsy (1978) *
dosh (1953) *
full monty (1985) *
gas mark (1963)
gay (homosexual sense) (1935)
handbags (at dawn) (1987)
her indoors (1979)
jaffa (cricketing term) *
moony, moonie (1990)
to muller (1993) *
mullet (hairstyle) (1994) *
mushy peas (1975)
naff (1966) *
nerd (1951) *
nip and tuck (1980)
nit nurse (1985)
nutmeg (football use) (1979) *
Old Bill (police) (1958)
on the pull (1988)
pass the parcel (1967)
pick and mix (1959)
ploughman's lunch (1970)
pop one's clogs (1977)
posh (1915) *
ska (1964) *
smart casual (1945)
snazzy (1932) *
something for the weekend (1990)
throw one's toys out of the pram (or cot) (1989)
tikka masala (1975)
* Origin unknown or origin uncertain