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‘Hot Mess’ Dates to 1899 and 5 Other Pieces of News from the Latest OED Update

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The Oxford English Dictionary just announced its latest update, adding 500 new words and over 2400 new senses of existing words to its online database. Here are some of the best bits from the new expansion.

1. HOT MESS DATES TO 1899

The earliest sense of hot mess was a warm meal served to a group. These days it’s U.S. slang for “something or someone in extreme confusion or disorder." This sense really took off in the 1990s, but the first citation for this meaning is from an 1899 issue of the Monthly Journal of the International Association of Machinists, and it’s a beautiful specimen: “Verily, I say unto you, the public is a hot mess.”

2. TWERK DATES TO 1848

The specific dance sense of twerk began in the 1990s, but as far back as 1848 it was a verb meaning “to move (something) with a twitching, twisting, or jerking motion.”

3. PEOPLE HAVE DONE THINGS GUERRILLA STYLE SINCE 1888

The newest sense of guerrilla is as a modifier “designating activities conducted in an irregular, unorthodox, and spontaneous way, without regard to established conventions, rules and formalities.” While guerrilla knitting (or yarnbombing) is a concept of the early 2000s, and guerrilla artguerrilla gardening, and guerrilla marketing started in the 1970s, guerrilla advertising goes all the way back to 1888.

4. NEW WORDS FROM PHILIPPINES ENGLISH

In Philippines English (also spoken in Filipino neighborhoods in the US), gimmick means “a night out with friends.” Carnap is “to steal a car,” and presidentiable is “a person who is a likely or confirmed candidate for president.” Useful!

5. NEW WORDS FROM SOUTH ASIAN ENGLISH

In the English spoken in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, a motorcade is called a carcade, and “a film with an ensemble cast featuring many star performers” is a multi-starrer.

6. OTHER NEW WORDS

Other words that just made the dictionary include meh, freegan, fo’ shizzle, twitterati, cisgender, intersectionality, SCOTUS, FLOTUS, and the phrasal verb go on in examples like “I went on Facebook,” meaning “to access or use the Internet, a web site, social media, etc.”

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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

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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