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16 OED Words That Became Obscure (Including Bransle, the Twerk of 1662)

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In a moment of cultural serendipity (or, depending on how you look at it, calamity), Oxford Dictionaries Online just announced that “twerk” made the list of new entries to its quarterly dictionary update. While the release of the update list reliably incites horror at the debasement of the venerable Oxford Dictionary institution, not to mention the English language in general, it is important to realize the difference between Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO)—a flexible, web-only collection focused on current English usage—and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), a historical record of the core of English, printed and bound on high-quality paper, from which words are never removed.

However, while most people respect the OED for enshrining the respectable, time-tested, stable fundament of English, they enjoy it for preserving the odd, rare, and obsolete, exactly the category of entry for which “twerk” is likely headed. Here are 16 words from the latest ODO update, matched up with 16 words from the OED that had short, obscure lives.

1. Twerk, Bransle

ODO - twerk, v.: “dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.”

OED - bransle, n.: “a kind of dance”
1662 (Samuel Pepys’ Diary) “They danced the Bransle.”

2. Omnishambles, Acang

ODO - omnishambles, n.: “a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations.”

OED - acang, v.: "to act foolishly, lose self-control"
1200 (St. Katherine manuscript) “Hu nu, dame, dotestu? Cwen, acangestu nu mid alle þes oðre?”

3. Selfie, Dap

ODO - selfie, n.: “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

OED - dap, n.: "likeness, image"
1746 (Exmoor Scolding) “Tha hast tha very Daps o' thy old muxy Ont Sybyl.”

4. Food Baby, Gutling

ODO - food baby, n.: “a protruding stomach caused by eating a large quantity of food and supposedly resembling that of a woman in the early stages of pregnancy.”

OED - gutling, n.: “a great eater, a glutton”
1632 (Robert Sanderson sermon) “The Poets..made themselues bitterly merry with descanting vpon..the fatte paunches of these lasie gutlings.”

5. A/W, M.B.

ODO - A/W, abbrev.: “autumn/winter (denoting or relating to fashion designed for the autumn and winter seasons of a particular year).”

OED - M.B., n.: Initialism for “Mark of the Beast,” used in “M.B. waistcoat”
1874 (W.E. Gladstone) “[The undivided clerical waistcoat] was deemed so distinctly Popish, that it acquired the nickname of ‘The Mark of the Beast’; and..among the tailors..was familiarly known as ‘the M.B. waistcoat’.”

6. Fauxhawk, Bullhead

ODO - fauxhawk, n.: “a hairstyle in which a section of hair running from the front to the back of the head stands erect, intended to resemble a Mohican haircut (in which the sides of the head are shaved).”

OED - bullhead, n.: “a mass of curled or frizzled hair worn over the forehead”
1672 (Andrew Marvell) “To trick up the good old Bishop in a yellow Coif and a Bulls-head, that he may..appear in Fashion.”

7. Grats, Sdeign

ODO - grats, pl. n.: “congratulations”

OED - sdeign, v.: "Shortening of disdain"
1590 (Faerie Queene) “They sdeigned such lasciuious disport.”

8. Hackerspace, Anythingarian

ODO - hackerspace, n.: “a place in which people with an interest in computing or technology can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge.”

OED - anythingarian, n.: “One who professes no creed in particular; an indifferentist.”
1704 (Thomas Brown) “Such bifarious anythingarians, that always make their interest the standard of their religion.”

9. Geek Chic, Sheepsy-Wolvesy

ODO - geek chic, n.: “the dress, appearance, and culture associated with computing and technology enthusiasts, regarded as stylish or fashionable.”

OED - sheepsy-wolvesy, adj.: “wolves in sheep’s clothing”
1657 (Jeffry Watts) “Linsie woolsie, sheepsie woolvsie prophets.”

10. Cake Pop, Flip-Flap

ODO - cake pop, n.: “a small round piece of cake coated with icing or chocolate and fixed on the end of a stick so as to resemble a lollipop.”

OED - flip-flap, n.: “a kind of tea cake.”
1876 (The Golden Butterfly) “As we sat over her dough-nuts and flipflaps.”

11. Squee, 'catso

ODO - squee, exclam. & v. & n.: “(used to express) great delight or excitement.”

OED - ‘catso, int.: an interjection akin to “what! Gods me!” from Italian cazzo the “membrum virile.”
1708 (Motteux’s translation of Rabelais) “Cat-so! let us..drink.”

12. Srsly, 'Cavy

ODO - srsly, adv.: “short for ‘seriously’.”

OED - ‘cavy, n. & adj.: short for “cavalier.”
1650 (Mutatus Polemo) “The Cavies being at that time ready to turn anything, except Roundhead, for some money to be chirpingly drunk.”

13. Babymoon, Chop-loge

ODO - babymoon, n.: “a relaxing or romantic holiday taken by parents-to-be before their baby is born; a period of time following the birth of a baby during which the new parents can focus on establishing a bond with their child.”

OED - chop-loge, n.: short for chop-logic, one who chops logic, “a contentious, sophistical arguer”
1542 (Udall’s translation of Erasmus) “He..with lacke of vitailles brought those chop-logues or greate pratlers as lowe as dogge to the bow.”

14. Balayage, Frizilation

ODO - balayage, n.: “a technique for highlighting hair in which the dye is painted on in such a way as to create a graduated, natural-looking effect.”

OED - frizilation, n.: the act of frizzling the hair
1567 “Her chief and comon exercise..was, to force a frizilacion of her haire.”

15. Buzzworthy, Coleworts

ODO - buzzworthy, adj.: “likely to arouse the interest and attention of the public, either by media coverage or word of mouth.”

OED - coleworts, n.: old news. Literally, a cabbage-like plant. From the proverb for “old news,” “coleworts twice sodden.”
1644 (Chirologia) “It being better sometimes to use a licentious and unwarrantable motion, then alwayes to obtrude the same Coleworts.”

16. Unlike, Unlike

ODO - unlike, v.: “withdraw one’s liking or approval of (a web page or posting on a social media website that one has previously liked).”

OED - unlike, v.: “to give up liking; to cease to like”
1761 (Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph) “My heart is not in a disposition to love... I cannot compel it to like, and unlike, and like anew at pleasure.”

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The Elements
9 Diamond-Like Facts About Carbon
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iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski

How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.


It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.


It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.


While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.


It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.


May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.


Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.


Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.


American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.


Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

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