June 14 — The venerable 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains about 700,000 words, but the editors recently realized they were missing one: Doh!
The cartoon character Homer Simpson's forehead-smacking lament is one of some 250 entries being added today to the dictionary, which is widely considered the leading authority on the English language.
"Doh" is now defined as "Expressing frustration at the realization that things have turned out badly or not as planned, or that one has just said or done something foolish," according to the new entry in the dictionary.
Do You Ever Use the Word "Doh"?
The Simpsons only popularized the term; it was actually used extensively in the 1950s, the OED found. Although it is often spelled "D'oh," the dictionary chose to omit the apostrophe.
Other newcomers to the dictionary include the Full Monty; cheesy, which means second-rate or inferior; six-pack, meaning rippling abdominal muscles, and Bollywood, which refers to the Hindi film industry based in Bombay, India.
"We'll have terms from immuno-biology to gangster rap," says Jesse Sheidlower, who is head of the project for North America.
Pop Culture Sleuths, With Help From the Public
The OED's staff of 50 editors is wading through popular culture looking for new words and usages that merit an entry, as part of its 8-year-old $55 million updating project. It is the first complete revision of the dictionary since it was completed in 1928.
"The principle way we [get new entries] is to have readers look around the world for things that seem new or significant," says John Simpson, chief editor of the OED. Contributors have included a Nobel laureate and an inmate at an insane asylum, among thousands of others.
"We have about 200,000 example sentences coming into the department each year."
Simpson (John, not Homer) and his colleagues whittle that list down to the few that seem to have gotten a solid foothold in popular usage. He says his job also gives him an excuse to watch a lot of action films, soap operas and quiz shows, to look for more new terms.
The dictionary contains some surprises for people who think they are using the latest, cutting-edge jargon.
"Many terms are much older than you think they are," says Sheidlower.
"Phat," for example, makes its debut in the OED today as a slang term meaning cool.
But it has been African-American slang since at least the 1960s, OED researchers found. The word even appeared with its present meaning in Time magazine in 1963.
Some Mysteries Remain
The origins of other terms remain a mystery. Did the expression, the Full Monty, start with World War II British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, who loved a large breakfast? Or an expanded version of a Spanish card game?
"No one knows where it comes from," admits Sheidlower.
The dictionary, which is available online only by subscription, will continue to release new words and revised definitions every quarter.