For the first time in nearly one hundred years, Britain’s Oxford English Dictionary has confirmed today that it is to reclassify a word in common useage.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is widely regarded as the official guardian of the English language, as spoken in English speaking countries, (which means we must exclude America in that definition). Performing the same function as the Académie Française in Paris, the OED carries out its duties to our language with equal fervour and diligence.
For over 150 years, the OED has carried out this role and today covers over 600,000 words, 3 million quotations and includes English words dating back 1000 years. Regular updates revise and extend the dictionary and reflect the subtle changes in the English language. As recently as September, hundreds of new words, phrases and senses entered the OED including hover board, telly addict and water baby.
Whilst additions are fairly commonplace, it is less usual for the meaning of a word to be radically changed unless prompted by a widely publicised event with major media coverage. Following the British Prime Minister’s speech on EU reform at Chatham House today, where he listed his ‘Demands’ as set out in his letter to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, the OED has confirmed that the definition of the word ‘Demand’ is to be changed in the revised edition of the dictionary to be issued shortly.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one senior researcher advised that whilst everyone had previously understood ‘Demand’ to mean ‘to request peremptorily or urgently; to require as just, urgent etc; to claim as a right, exact’… it was now clear that it actually meant ‘to waffle vaguely about some hopefully unchallenging issues in the hope that the great British public would stop whining and just jolly well go away’.