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How To Get a Word into the Oxford English Dictionary

The short process is: meet someone who works at the OED evaluating new words for inclusion. The slightly longer process involves plying him or her with drink. The most complete answer is contained in Lyza Danger Gardner's blog entry How I Got a Word into the Oxford English Dictionary. (And yes, it includes both of the aforementioned steps.) As Erin McKean pointed out in her Ten Things You Should Know About the Dictionary, it helps to have identified a lexical gap first -- a place in the language where a word does not exist, but a need is clear. And that's exactly what Lyza did...though the word she got into the OED was not quite the one she'd planned on. Here's a snippet:

...I wanted him to consider the word "nugry," promoted by my friend Tom, who was active on (I believe) alt.puzzles or somesuch similar problem-solving-related newsgroup. The definition of nugry? Essentially: "The third word in the English language ending in '-gry'", existing for the sole purpose of being an answer to a puzzle-riddle I've long since forgotten. You can see why I failed in this regard.

Besides, William [the OED editor] was fairly nonchalant (at best) about his occupation. He found it bemusing that I held such reverence for the establishment. "Eh," he would say, "really we're all just a bunch of tossers."

One night we went to London to celebrate William's birthday. We all went to a pub in Camden Town called, if memory serves, the Ram and Tup (a rather bawdy reference!). Everyone got fair well plastered except myself and Matt. We trundled William into the back of Matt's car, all spinny-headed and dreamy. I was sitting in the passenger seat.

"Lyza. I have something that is going to make your week."

"Yeah?"

"Your word is going to be in the next edition."

"Really?!"

"Except not the one you think." ...

Read the rest to find out which word actually made it into the dictionary, thanks to Lyza's perseverance.

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Big Questions
Where Does the Phrase '… And the Horse You Rode In On' Come From?
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Horses may no longer be the dominant form of transportation in the U.S., but the legacy of our horseback-riding history lives on in language. When telling people off, we still use the phrase “... and the horse you rode in on.” These days, it’s rare for anyone you're telling to go screw themselves to actually be an equestrian, so where did “and the horse you rode in on” come from, anyway?

Well, let’s start with the basics. The phrase is, essentially, an intensifier, one typically appended to the phrase “F*** you.” As the public radio show "A Way With Words" puts it, it’s usually aimed at “someone who’s full of himself and unwelcome to boot.” As co-host and lexicographer Grant Barrett explains, “instead of just insulting you, they want to insult your whole circumstance.”

The phrase can be traced back to at least the 1950s, but it may be even older than that, since, as Barrett notes, plenty of crude language didn’t make it into print in the early 20th century. He suggests that it could have been in wide use even prior to World War II.

In 1998, William Safire of The New York Times tracked down several novels that employed the term, including The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972) and No Bugles, No Drums (1976). The literary editor of the latter book, Michael Seidman, told Safire that he heard the term growing up in the Bronx just after the Korean War, leading the journalist to peg the origin of the phrase to at least the late 1950s.

The phrase has had some pretty die-hard fans over the years, too. Donald Regan, who was Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan from 1981 through 1984, worked it into his official Treasury Department portrait. You can see a title along the spine of a book in the background of the painting. It reads: “And the Horse You Rode In On,” apparently one of Regan’s favorite sayings. (The book in the painting didn't refer to a real book, but there have since been a few published that bear similar names, like Clinton strategist James Carville’s book …and the Horse He Rode In On: The People V. Kenneth Starr and Dakota McFadzean’s 2013 book of comics Other Stories And the Horse You Rode In On.)

It seems that even in a world where almost no one rides in on a horse, insulting a man’s steed is a timeless burn.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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language
How to Say Merry Christmas in 26 Different Languages
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“Merry Christmas” is a special greeting in English, since it’s the only occasion we say “merry” instead of “happy.” How do other languages spread yuletide cheer? Ampersand Travel asked people all over the world to send in videos of themselves wishing people a “Merry Christmas” in their own language, and while the audio quality is not first-rate, it’s a fun holiday-themed language lesson.

Feel free to surprise your friends and family this year with your new repertoire of foreign-language greetings.

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