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Last updated at 17:11 BST, Thursday, 07 October 2010



John Ayto explains the origin, meaning and use of the word 'edgy'.

Man trying on sunglasses from a sunglasses display


If there's any word that needs to be up-to-date, fashionable and cool, it's a word that means 'up-to-date', 'fashionable', 'cool'. What could be more passé, more naff than an old word for 'new'?

Well, actually, what goes around can sometimes come around. 'Cool' itself is a good example. In the 1940s and 50s, it was the height of verbal fashion. It then went through a long period out of favour, when it seemed so last-generation. And now of course, it's right back in fashion.

But many of its synonyms are irrevocably on the scrapheap: 'trendy', 'with it', 'happening', 'where it's at' – where are they now? So, what is the latest fashionable word? It's 'edgy'.

Now the idea behind 'edgy', is that the edge is the most forward part of something, the place where new things are happening, where the future is becoming the present. We talk, too, of innovation taking place 'at the leading edge' or 'at the cutting edge'. So the imagery is quite familiar.

One slight problem is that historically, 'edgy' has long meant something completely different: anxious, nervous, 'on edge'. But we can cope with words that have multiple meanings. When someone recommends the edgiest new restaurant in town, we realise there's no cause for anxiety.

About John Ayto

John Ayto

John Ayto is a lexicographer and a writer on words and language. He began his dictionary career as one of the editors of the first edition of the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, and over the past twenty years he has produced a range of his own books on the history and use of words, including the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Word Origins, the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang and Twentieth-Century Words, a survey of the new words that came into the English language during the twentieth century. He edited the 17th edition of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, and he has broadcast extensively on lexical matters.