Exploring the Spatiotemporality of the OED

This week’s assignment for Dr David J. Wrisley’s History of the English Language had us “explore the spatiotemporality of the OED”, and involved taking a closer and more analytical look at one of the most prestigious and influential dictionaries in the modern era.

Part 1: Neologisms

Between 2000 and 2016, 115 terms entered the Oxford English Dictionary. One interesting thing is the prevalence of private companies and services, such as “BitTorrent” and “Skype”, both with a plethora of competitors in the field. Another interesting thing to note is that while there are 115 word entries, the “subject” filter accounts for only 56. These are partitioned as follow:

Technology and science make up the majority of these new words as is expected. Another incomplete classification is the "first citation" tag, yielding the following pie chart:

The most interesting thing revealed in this chart is the jargon used for words originating from the web. While 6 words are specifically noted as originating from twitter, 9, the largest number, are reportedly originating from the "Usenet" a largely obsolete term, saliant in the absence of an "internet" classification(which in term could explain the incompleteness of this tag).

The majority of these neologisms are nouns, which could be explained by the prevalence among them of new technological and scientific jargon as suggested by the previous charts.

The final metric I considered is the language of origin, one, with the vast majority originating from English, European languages being the second biggest source of these neologisms. A closer look at the "other sources" category reveals no specific patterns, with entries ranging from internet slang to chemical elements.

Part 2: Old Norse in the OED

The second part of this assignment requires a close look at a category in the OED, more specifically at a distinct region or language, and then conducting a spatio-temporally informed analysis using the timeline tools functionality.

Naturally, I gravitated towards Old Norse, which is featured under Germanic>North Germanic languages in the categorization system. The OED lists 754 entries, many of which seem to be proper names relating to the Norse belief system, with entries such as “Asgard”, which is the realm inhabited by the Norse gods, “Baldur”, a Norse deity, and “Aesir” which refers to the group of deities.

Other words seem completely foreign to the my English literary sensibilities, such as "‘amboht” meaning handmaid, or “amell” meaning in the middle.

However, some words seem entirely mundane and are omnipresent in our modern usage of the language, such as “anger”, “bait”, “bush”, “daze” and “drag”. What’s even more interesting is that these five words have all entered the language in the same period of around 100 years, during the early 14th and 15th century. This seems to be represented in the "timeline" graph of the 754 entries shown below.

The graph also reveals a notable resurgence of Old Norse entries in the 1750’s, in the period of the rediscovery of the Edda’s and of Viking revival and Germanic romanticism. This is confirmed when looking at the 33 entries marked during these five decades, with proper nouns specifically pertaining to norse mythology being prominently featured, such as “Yggdrasil”, “Valkyrie”, “Skald”, “Nornie”, “Niflheim”, “Midgard”, “Aesir” and the word “Edda” itself.


This is even reflected in the part of speech category, especially when compared with the "1250" period:

During the "1250-1300" period, not only did more words enter the OED, but also more "functional" words such as verbs and adjectives, of which a sizeable number is now of regular use in the English language. However, most of the words entering the OED in the "1750-1800" period are nouns and nomenclatures recently uncovered by the sprawling germanic and viking revival, and specific to this very discourse.