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'Muggle'makes it into the OED

31 March 2003

News of the latest words thrown up by the ongoing revision of the Oxford English DictionaryWonderful online resource giving 'a truly astounding picture of the English language as an extraordinary living phenomenon' (Robert McCrum); Over 500,000 words gives a comforting sense of stability in a chaotic world. It's amazing how quickly that bastion of the English language is now adding words as they come into common use. The latest example is 'Muggle', used in the Harry Potter books to describe an ordinary human who is ignorant of the arts of magic, which is now widely used to describe someone who is clumsy or unskilled.

This brings J K Rowling into the august company of Lewis Carroll and J R R Tolkien, as one of the very few authors whose invented words have entered everyday use and thus found their way into the Dictionary. A spokesperson from OED says: "Normally it takes some time before the word starts to be used outside of its fictional context but with muggle this seemed to happen quite quickly."

The Dictionary is the accepted world authority on the evolution of the English language over the last millennium. It traces the usage of over half a million words through no less than 2.5 million quotations from a wide range of international sources, from classic literature and specialist periodicals to film scripts and cookery books. As well as a list of variant spellings, there's also a guide to pronunciation using the International Phonetic Alphabet

The OED is now covering world English. As well as all the work going on at the Oxford headquarters, the North American Editorial Unit of the Dictionary scans new American words constantly. It has added words such as 'urban jungle' and 'power shopping', not to mention the 'buyer's remorse' which follows.

The Dictionary editors are also continually trying to antedate words, such as the recent moving of the first use of 'mumble' from 1902 to 1653. If you feel you can help, please get in touch with them if you come across uses of 'nickable' antedating 1989, or 'overtop' (meaning over the top of) prior to 1978.