Balderdash and Piffle

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Monday, my friend Matthew the Brit who lives in Brussels left a comment on my entry written In Praise of the C Word, suggesting that we Americans check out this British show Balderdash and Piffle, because it was cool and because Germaine Greer had done a really cool bit on the c word itself. I believed him, but I didn't have time to check it out right away.

Later that day, on campus, I went to consult the Oxford English Dictionary on the etymology of a particular word. (While I really love the multi-volume hard copy, it's much more convenient to use the on-line version--I am lucky to work at an institution that has a subscription to the OED on-line.) And instead of the standard home page, I got something telling me that until February 13, 2006, ANYONE can use the OED, because it's available in conjunction with Balderdash and Piffle.

If you've never looked something up in the OED, do. It's really cool--OK, it's really cool if you're a language geek, but what writer isn't? The entries tell you not only the current meaning, but every meaning a word has ever had, and it lists occurrences of the word throughout history. Part of the mission of the OED is to document a word's first written usage, and to that end, they enlist the help of anyone who reads, to provide them with citations and occurrences.

On the B&P site is a list of words the OED people want help with. The site states:

We're particuarly interested to hear from you on the origins of the following words as no one has yet managed beat the dictionary.

* bog-standard [1983]
* bonk (sexual intercourse) [1975]
* bouncy castle [1986]
* minger [1995]
* moony, moonie [1990]
* mullet* (hairstyle) [1994]
* nerd* [1951]
* phwoar [1980]
* pick'n'mix [1959]
* pop one's clogs [1977]

Or perhaps you can find even earlier evidence on the following list than other Wordhunters have come up with so far?

* Beeb [1967]
* boffin* [1941]
* bomber jacket [1973]
* codswallop* [previously thought to be 1963; antedated to 1959 thanks to Wordhunt]
* Crimble [1963]
* cyberspace [1982]
* cyborg [1960]
* ditsy* [1978]
* dosh* [1953]
* full monty [previously thought to be 1985; updated etymology and evidence from 1982 thanks to Wordhunt]
* gas mark [1963]
* gay (homosexual sense) [1935]
* handbags (at dawn) [1987]
* her indoors [1979]
* jaffa* (cricketing term)
* muller* [1993]
* mushy peas [1975]
* naff* [1966]
* nip and tuck [previously thought to be 1980; antedated to 1977 thanks to Wordhunt]
* nit nurse [previously thought to be 1985; antedated to 1942 thanks to Wordhunt]
* nutmeg* (football use) [1979]
* Old Bill (police) [1958]
* on the pull [1988]
* pass the parcel [previously thought to be 1967; antedated to 1954 thanks to Wordhunt]
* pear-shaped [1983]
* porky [1985]
* posh* [1915]
* ska [1964; updated etymology thanks to Wordhunt]
* snazzy* [previously thought to be 1932; antedated to 1931 thanks to Wordhunt]

OK, the list is pretty thoroughly British--I doubt many Americans know the origins of cricketing terms. But who wouldn't like credit for finding the earliest usage of "mullet"? (Though when I had one such haircut long about 1981 or so, we called it "a bi-level.")

The BBC site also provides links allowing you to (among other things) check out the family tree of the Indo-European language, hear what Anglo-Saxon sounded like, write a poem, play an etymology game, and listen to various regional dialects.

Have fun!

1 Comment

Hey, Holly, I have tagged you for a "meme" - like you don't have enough to do!

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on February 2, 2006 9:55 AM.

Can They Be a Sensible Academy? was the previous entry in this blog.

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