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  New words in the dictionary
Updated 12 July 2004, 14.29
Thierry Henry va va vooms into the dictionary


Va-va-voom, which footballer Thierry Henry tries to sum up in the Renault TV ads, has made it into the dictionary. Students invent their own new words and definitions.

Learning aims:

  • To understand that language evolves to reflect changes in society
  • To increase dictionary use
  • To examine the etymology of new words

Teaching Ideas:

1. Icebreaker

Read this story to the class:

Students try to guess the meaning of these words which have also made it into the 11th edition of the Oxford English Dictionary:

    Congestion charge signs
  • Congestion charge
  • Bioweapon
  • Bumsters
  • Snowblade
  • Threequel
  • Tiggerish
  • Mini-me

They compare their answers with the definitions:

  • Congestion charge: A charge made to drive into an area, typically a city centre, that suffers heavy traffic.
  • Bioweapon: A harmful biological agent used as a weapon of war (from the Iraq conflict).
  • Bumsters: Trousers that are cut very low on the hips.
  • Snowblade: A type of short ski about one metre in length, used without ski sticks.
  • Threequel: The third film, book, event etc in a series; a second sequel.
  • Tiggerish: very lively, energetic and cheerful (from Tigger in Winnie-the-Pooh).
  • Mini-me: A person closely resembling a smaller or younger version of another (from the film Austin Powers).

Ask students: Would you have known what these words meant three years ago? Why not?

2. Warm up

Students look closely at new words - speed dating, flash mob, designer baby and congestion charge. They are made up by combining two words already in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Students look up the definitions of these individual words in a dictionary e.g. speed and dating.

Ask students: How do these definitions compare to the meaning of the new word? Is anything added to the meaning? Is anything taken away?

Students look closely at new words - cybercrime, bioweapon, bumsters, threequel and snowblade. They are the merger of two words. Ask students what they think these words are?

Students look up the definitions of the individual words in a dictionary e.g. cybernetics and crime.

Again, ask students: How do the individual definitions compare to the meaning of the new word? Is anything added to the meaning? Is anything taken away?

3. Main activity: Call my Bluff

Call My Bluff team
Students become wordsmiths by inventing a new word and definition. They pick two words at random from a dictionary and combine or merge them to create a new word. They then devise a meaning based on the entries for the two starting words.

E.g. cardigan + radiator = cardiator: A jumper which is cool on the inside and warm on the outside. It cools you down by taking the heat away from your body and transferring it to the outside of the material. Anyone you hug will be toasty!

In groups of three, each wordsmith asks the other two students to come up with alternative definitions for their word.

E.g. Cardiator: A machine used by magicians to practice their card tricks. It replaces the need for a human volunteer, so no-one gets to see the slight of hand involved until the magician is perfectly tricktastic!

E.g. Cardiator: A device worn by speed daters. The cardiator measures your heart rate while you are chatting with potential dates. At the end of the session the cardiator tells you who is the most likely to set your pulse racing!

Each group picks the best word and set of definitions, which they then present to the rest of the class.

Classmates vote on which definition they think is the original.

The wordsmith reveals the original definition and explains how the word was formed e.g. by merging cardigan and radiator.

4. Extension activity

Judy Pearsall, from the Oxford University Press, explains how a word gets into the Oxford English Dictionary. She said : "We have readers who go through various sources, from websites and journals to books and even comics. Anywhere you can think of where the written word is collected. Then what we do is use a points system where we judge each word on a certain criteria."
Students write a list of the criteria they think are used.

Va-va-voom is onomatopoeic because it sounds like the noise of a car engine. Students write down a list of words which describe other car noises. They can be existing words or invented ones. What word would describe these sounds?:

    Onomatopoeic car
  • Stereo e.g. boom boom
  • Electric windows e.g. vvupt
  • Ignition
  • Shutting the doors/boot
  • Car keys
  • Leather seat
  • Braking
  • Changing gear
  • Windscreen wipers
  • Air conditioning/ heating
  • Indicators

Using these onomatopoeic words, students write a car poem.

5. Plenary

Recap on the main teaching points:

  • New words are often made up of a combination or merger of existing words.
  • Language is constantly evolving to reflect changes in society.

Students discuss slang words they use now which they expect to see in the dictionary in two years time. Why should they be put in the dictionary?

For all links and resources, click at top right.

More InfoBORDER=0
UK'Muggle' goes into Oxford English Dictionary
UKBling bling makes it into dictionary
UKVa-va-voom is in the dictionary


Past StoriesBORDER=0
Buzz words
Girl Power storms into the dictionary
Star Wars words make it into dictionary


Web Links
Oxford English Dictionary
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