Skip to navigationSkip to content
IF IT AIN'T BORK

The Oxford English Dictionary is adding new words based on your workplace jargon

Leona, 7, poses inside a labyrinth installation made up of 250,000 books.
Reuters/Olivia Harris
Young words.
  • Cassie Werber
By Cassie Werber

Reporter

“Borked” caught the attention of Jeffrey Sherwood, a lexicographer at the Oxford English Dictionary, when he began working on a project to source new words.

“To bork” had once been a verb associated with US politics, derived from the US Supreme Court nomination of a judge named Robert Bork, who ultimately wasn’t confirmed. Now, the word has cropped up again, but this time in the tech sector, meaning that something—a website feature, for example—isn’t working properly. Sherwood and his team don’t yet know whether the modern use of borked is related to the earlier version, or is a new coinage, perhaps derived from a corruption of the word “broken” (eg, “this is borken”). That’s the kind of small mystery the OED will have to unravel with any of the words it chooses eventually to include, as part of a review that runs through March 2019.

Before the age of the internet, dictionary editors had to take out magazine ads if they wanted to find out about new words that were being used across the English-speaking world, Sherwood said. Online databases and tools have changed that, but the OED is still on the hunt for words that have slipped into usage but aren’t yet defined. In the past year, it has crowdsourced words that young people and teens use; words associated with hobbies; and words specific to certain regions. Now the team is interested in the words people use at work, and it’s conducting a three-month-long call-out for people to submit words associated with their chosen specialties. Thousands of words are submitted during these kinds of appeals; a few dozen go in.

So far, the OED has heard from the UK postal service (where workers apparently call the trolleys that hold their mailbags “yorks”), the restaurant and hospitality sector, academia, and the legal marijuana trade. Journalists have submitted words, too. “Dishy” is on the list. I, a British journalist, immediately assumed it meant handsome; New York-based Sherwood said he’d have assumed it meant gossipy. The submitter said the term referred to the manual insertion of a hyphen into word processing software.

The OED released a number of examples to encourage submissions. A gomer, which has already made it into the dictionary, is a term used by US doctors to refer to troublesome patients (it’s an acronym of the phrase “get out of my emergency room.”) Other work terms have made it deeper into the public consciousness, like “to hotdesk.” Once words have been submitted, the team will get to work on fleshing out their etymologies and verifying the extent of their usage.

Sherwood also shared a number of words sourced from previous campaigns that OED is in the process of adding. They include hammajang, a Hawaiian adjective used to mean a disorderly or chaotic state; adulting, meaning the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult; and UFO, a term used in quilting, sewing, and knitting circles to denote an unfinished object.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.