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BBC and the OED call for the nation's help in Wordhunt

Category: Factual & Arts TV

Date: 10.06.2005
Printable version

BBC TWO is asking viewers to join The Wordhunt Project and help rewrite the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), 'the greatest book in the English language'.


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 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, 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 the dictionary.


"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 mysteries."


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 the dictionary.


Your language needs you!


Notes to Editors


Please include the info required for people to submit their information to the project. They can visit or email

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 Alphabet.


The Second Edition of the OED is available as a 20-volume print edition, on CD-ROM, and now also online at


The 50 Word Appeal:


back to square one (1960) *

balti (1984) *

Beeb (1967)

boffin (1941) *

bog-standard (1983)

bomber jacket (1973)

to bonk (sexual intercourse) (1975)

bouncy castle (1986)

chattering classes (1985)

codswallop (1963) *

Crimble (1963)

cyberspace (1982)

cyborg (1960)

ditsy (1978) *

dosh (1953) *

full monty (1985) *

gas mark (1963)

gay (homosexual sense) (1935)

handbags (at dawn) (1987)

her indoors (1979)

jaffa (cricketing term) *

Mackem (1991)

made-up (1980)

minger (1995)

minted (1995)

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)

pear-shaped (1983)

phwoar (1980)

pick and mix (1959)

ploughman's lunch (1970)

pop one's clogs (1977)

porky (1985)

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




Category: Factual & Arts TV

Date: 10.06.2005
Printable version


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