New words – 14 November 2011

griefing noun the activity of deliberately annoying or harrassing other players in a multi-player computer game

Griefing is a crime of opportunity. They don’t want to work for their random destruction if they don’t have to, unless they have a specific vendetta or are after a specific resource.
[ (gamer’s forum) 02.06.11]

horse-boarding noun the sport of standing on a skateboard, holding a rope which is attached to a horse and being pulled along behind it

Have you ever ridden a horse and have you ever been skateboarding? Perhaps you fancy doing a combination of the two and going horse-boarding.
[BBC 1 Newsround (children’s news programme) 07.05.11]

planker noun one who engages in planking

Queensland police last week warned ‘plankers’ of the dangers of the activity, after a man was caught allegedly planking on a police car.
[ 15.05.11]

About new words

12 thoughts on “New words – 14 November 2011

  1. John

    I can’t find any other way of feeding back to Cambridge Dictionaries, so I’ll leave my comments here.

    I must state my combined amusement and disappointment at the given definition of the word ‘Universe’.

    The first part is wholly accurate – ‘Everything that exists’. Cambridge Dictionaries then go on to elaborate on this as if it were not enough information to form a solid understanding and states ‘Especially all physical matter’. I would say that apart from being superfluous this comment is asinine given that there is currently no proof or even evidence of non physical matter and given that all physical matter slots unerringly under the major category (Everything that exists).

    To further ridicule itself, Cambridge Dictionaries then adds ‘Including all the stars, planets, galaxies, etc. in space’. Firstly, where else would they be other than in space? Secondly, do they not also fit under the major category? It would be equally fitting to say ‘Including all of the shoes, bones and jellyfish etc. in the universe’.

    Not satisfied with their attempts to add things to everything Cambridge Dictionaries then goes on to give this word a plural form. Surely if the universe is everything then another universe or many other universes would collectively be the universe, or is everything no longer superlative?

    The larger part of my point here is that if you are going to publish a book and call it a dictionary then the definitions should be just that. Rambling into tangents and changing the way in which language works is more of a novel of pointless musings than a dictionary.

    1. Cambridge Dictionaries Online would like to point out that the definitions referred to in the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary are written for learners of English and are intended to help non-native users of English to understand the most common meanings and usages of current English. A definition intended for cosmologists would certainly take a different approach, but that is not the approach taken here.

      With reference to the plural form, this is a specific sense of ‘universe’ which is given a [C] grammar code meaning ‘countable’. When defining words, we refer to their usage in the Cambridge English Corpus – a database of over 1 billion words of naturally-occurring English. The plural form ‘universes’ is not uncommon in the CEC, and occurs in academic contexts as well as fiction, so it is necessary to explain this within the dictionary entry.

      You can always send feedback to

  2. John

    A dictionary is supposed to be a concise reference to correct English regardless of the reader and so a definition intended for cosmologists should be identical to a definition intended for anybody else.

    The first paragraph in your reply suggests that you have created a guide to colloquial English including ways in which word definitions can be elaborated upon until they define something more or other than the word to which they refer does.

    Regardless of the number of entries in the Cambridge English Corpus, logic has only one means and superlatives can not be pluralised. ‘More unique’ commonly occurs in the english language but it is impossible to achieve and a ridiculous thing to write in a book.

      1. John

        There would be little point as The Oxford English Dictionary is sufficient.

        I made reason based logical points, is that the most logical response that you can give? It is a little short of ‘I am rubber, you are glue…’.

        All the best.

    1. A dictionary should always consider its target audience in deciding the coverage and detail given in its definitions – consider, for example, the difference between the entry for ‘capital’ in our Advanced Learner’s Dictionary and new Business English Dictionary:

      In a living language, words are never set in stone, rather meanings are constantly changing and evolving; for instance, the word ‘nice’ used to mean ‘foolish or stupid’ but its meaning has changed over the years to its current usage, and will no doubt continue to evolve in the future. The vast majority of current lexicographers agree that a dictionary should describe these changes of sense rather than attempt to ‘correct’ them, or stick rigidly to outdated usage.

      Finally, the Oxford English Dictionary is an extraordinary work, but a very different sort of dictionary to those that we offer. I note in passing, however , that the OED includes a sense of ‘universe’ which allows the plural, and indeed includes a number of examples of the word used in the plural form, dating back to 1738.

  3. If thought and literature confined itself to only the physical universe then it would indeed be only one thing. There are people who think that there are parallel universes and however much we may disagree with their beliefs we have to express it in the plural. Even as cyberspace is part of our physical world the many worlds that players of video game operate in is an entirely different collection of universes. Even the multiple worlds of individual imaginations has to be expressed in terms of universes as distinct from the physical. Literature itself is in multiple universes. All of that being said; it is not, in my opinion, the stuff of dictionaries to make the distinction between the physical and the imaginative universe of the users of words.

    1. John

      Trevor, thank you for your comments. I have replied to most of it in a collective fashion below but I want to respond directly to your last sentence.

      I think that by ‘imaginative’ you meant ‘imaginary’ otherwise you are referring to universes which have and liberally use an imagination and are owned by people. I also think that by ‘stuff’ you meant ‘purpose’. Stuff is colloquially used to refer to the elements and/or concepts that make up an entity(Eg. ‘I thought that you were made of better stuff than that.’ or ‘National pride is the stuff of being British’) but the context is about the purpose of the dictionary. Have I understood you correctly or did you mean something else?

      I did not make these observations just in order to critisise you, it is that you have highlighted my motivation for commenting in the first place. If you and enough other people continue to use imaginative in this way the word starts to mean imaginary and we end up not having a word for imaginative.

      If I have understood you then I agree. It is not the purpose of dictionaries to distinguish between imaginary universes and the real one. It is the purpose of a dictionary to define words and nothing else.

  4. John

    I realise that my initial sarcasm and ridicule was over the top and inappropriate but I am glad that it has sparked a level of discussion. Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries are seen by many as the true authorities on English language and I would like to see them stay that way.

    I agree with the points made about the evolution of language. My favorite example is the word text which has additionally become a verb and a file passed between mobile phones.

    It is true that the definitions of words evolve out of their original usage and into their current usage by means of popular usage. I think that this is a wonderful thing which I neither whish to take away from anyone nor try to prevent.

    It does sometimes go wrong though and I think that this is an example. This leads me back to my comment about the use of the phrase ‘more unique’ being commonly used in English language and literature. You can not become more unique than unique and you can not have more than one instance of everything in existence. This is incorrect use of language however common it may be.

    I maintain my position about a dictionary. A dictionary in this context is a list of English language words and their meanings. A list of English words and their current common usage is a different thing.

    I understand that it is important to teach this to people whose first language is not English but it is more important to do it appropriately.

    I discussed this with a German whose third language is English and she has a better command of it than I do. After reading the CED definition of universe I had to explain to her that what CED was trying to get across is that some native English speakers will redefine ‘Universe’, ‘World’ and/or ‘Everything’ to mean all of the objects, issues and events in their life and this was a correct colloquial use of language on the grounds that most native English speakers would understand clearly.

    She understood this and has seen the same things occur in German and French. She could not understand how in a definition of the word it can mean all things in existence and a multiplication of all things in existence and a limited selection of things in existence unless the word is a homonym.

    On a slight tangent; I looked up the word facetious in 2004 (I do not remember which dictionary) and the definition given was ‘Sportive, Jocular and Fun’. I was bemused by this as it did not seem to be how the word was used and so I looked it up in several other dictionaries and found them to be roughly concurrent.

    The current given CED definition for the word is’ not serious about a serious subject, in an attempt to be funny or to appear clever’ which is exactly how the word is used. The reason that I find this observation interesting enough to comment on is that the evolution of facetious has occurred in a very short space of time and this depicts the power of colloquial use of English to evolve our language beautifully.

  5. My use of ‘imaginative’ and ‘stuff’ properly expressed what I meant. ‘Imaginative’ as distinct from ‘imaginary’, in my mind (and I think by its definition) implies that someone might create an imaginary world, as opposed to already living in a world of their own imagination. Both would have carried the meaning well enough. The origin of the word ‘stuff’ goes back to when bits of wool where pushed into the openings of chain mail to make it more comfortable in cold weather. It has evolved into meaning anything that comes to hand to fill up the cracks and further to mean unspecified material. I see dictionaries as having the difficult task of taking a word, expressing its meaning but then unable to anticipate the context where it might be used. That being said; if you parse my writings you are bound to find errors. I play the whipped puppy well.

  6. John

    When I said ‘I did not make these observations just in order to critisise you’ perhaps I should have said that the purpose of these observations is not to critisise you, I make them because they fit well with my point. If you have concluded yourself to be the whipped puppy then I sincerely appologise. I mean you no disrespect.

    To reply to your point, perhaps you can help me to understand. I did not go to a very good school, but they taught me some logic regarding sentence construction and I have never tried to improve on this part of my education.

    The following applies much more than the word imagine and the sentences can be constructed differently, but this fits the context:

    In the case of imagination I would use imaginary to describe something which has been imagined by someone (Operative). If I then wanted to describe that persons behaviour I would describe them as imaginative (Superlative). If I wanted to command that person I would use imagine, thus changing the word into a verb. In order to construct the sentence I must use the adjective followed by the subject (‘Imaginary universe.’, ‘An imaginitive child who envisages universes in his head.’, ‘Imagine the universe.’). My school also taught me that when in doubt, I should refer to the dictionary:

    Imaginary: Existing only in the imagination.
    Imaginative: Having or showing creativity or inventiveness.
    Imagine: Form a mental image or concept of.

    Using that logic, your sentence reads to me a reference to a universe which has or shows creativity or inventiveness. I genuinely do not know if this is a blind spot in my understanding of English language. If it is, please explain to it me.

    As for the job of a dictionary, I still maintain my position. It is black and white with no grey areas. It has the purpose of defining words exactly. There are many other resources for teaching creative and imaginative use of English. Again, I accept that this could be a blind spot in my education and/or understanding, please explain to me how I am wrong if you think it has another purpose.

    Just in case you do think that the dictionary has another purpose, I would like to say at this stage that the dictionary definition of dictionary is very clear.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

  7. John: I did not take any offense. The whipped puppy reference (perhaps I should have said ‘a battered old dog’) was solely in jest. Your reference to ‘imaginative: as showing creativity and inventiveness’ is precisely what I meant and I didn’t use the word with deliberate premeditation but rather in an instinctive way. Once again, it is the context that dictates. For instance; if one where to write, “The author approaches his stories with an imaginative flair.” it would mean something quite different if it were, “The author approaches his stories with an imaginary flair.” The words simply fit the thought.

    On the role of dictionaries I would argue that there isn’t precision in the definition of words. My interest is in the evolution of language and so often a word would have an entirely different meaning a few hundred years ago but the shade of the original meaning would still exist. For instance; the word ‘nice’ would mean (roughly defined) “brainless” and a woman as a marriage prospect who is ‘nice and pretty’ would be attractive because she would be ‘manageable’ as well as not bad to look at. Today, nice is a complement but often it has a sarcastic flavour to it. Sometimes to say something is ‘nice’ is a ‘damning with faint praise’ kind of insult. ‘Cute’ once referred roughly to the “angular” nature of a baby’s legs. To call a girl ‘nice and cute’ would, therefore, be saying that she is “brainless and bow legged”. Young girls could look cute but middle aged women, however attractive would not fit that description. So you can see that word definitions do not have precision.

    If I can be critical of dictionaries I don’t like them to be too abbreviated because there are so many words that have several overlapping meanings and one can be confused if a shade of meaning is included in the use of this overlap. Take the word ‘smart’ as an example. Smart can mean intelligent or, more aptly, knowledgeable. It also means ‘a sharp stinging pain’. The soldier who comes to attention ‘smartly’ isn’t doing it in an intelligent way. The student who learns his lessons by the sting of the ‘cane’ or the soldier who would, in the past, obey because he would otherwise receive ’40 lashes’ makes the ancillary definition “sharp stinging pain” relevant. The use of the word in a particular context could have the meanings of ‘having knowledge’ or ‘well disciplined’ subtly coloured by the notion how their sense of smartness came to be.

    Anyway, I ramble on and on and I have to say that I have enjoyed our back and forth.

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