June 26, 2008
You can mark this as one of the more exciting days of my life. Let me back up.
I grew up in a household where one respected the Oxford English Dictionary. We had the condensed version, two enormous volumes with a special drawer to hold a magnifying glass with which to examine the shot-down copy. I’m sure my mother coveted the full 20-volume edition, but the second edition didn’t even come out until 1989 and right now has a street price approaching a thousand dollars.
Once I escaped adolescence, I had my own fully-formed lexical passion. The OED became a symbol of pure scholarship, reverence for the language, glowing hotly in my psyche. When I was 22, a group of friends and I pooled money and bought the OED (again, condensed version–even those are about $250) for a friend. Sadly, I do not even to this day, own my own. We stood around drinking beer and looking for weird words (I still remember from that day, one of my favorites: quaquaversal, “[d]ipping, pointing, or occurring in every direction.” In my jejune reckoning, I wanted to write a novel entitled “View from the Quaquaverse.”).
Soon thereafter I decamped for England, presumably for graduate studies but more accurately for dampness, inebriation and shiftlessness. Through a wild turn of coincidences involving the Baltic States and a motorcycle accident, I befriended one of my Matts (many know that all of my close friends in England were called “Matt,” this was “Wolverhampton Matt”). I must’ve let it drop that I had a serious hankering for the OED.
“Oh,” he said. “I have a friend who works on the OED.”
I thought he was full of it until he suggested that we head down to Oxford (I lived in Birmingham) for a weekend to visit said friend and his wife. In the interest of anonymity (I’m not sure he would want me recounting these tales in such a public forum), I’ll call him William. This first weekend visit turned into a few more.
As soon as I had verified that he indeed worked on the OED–in a capacity that identifies new words for inclusion, no less–I started in on my assault. It’s embarrassingly juvenile: I wanted him to consider the word “nugry,” promoted by my friend Tom, who was active on (I believe) alt.puzzles or somesuch similar problem-solving-related newsgroup. The definition of nugry? Essentially: “The third word in the English language ending in ‘-gry’”, existing for the sole purpose of being an answer to a puzzle-riddle I’ve long since forgotten. You can see why I failed in this regard.
Besides, William was fairly nonchalant (at best) about his occupation. He found it bemusing that I held such reverence for the establishment. “Eh,” he would say, “really we’re all just a bunch of tossers.”
One night we went to London to celebrate William’s birthday. We all went to a pub in Camden Town called, if memory serves, the Ram and Tup (a rather bawdy reference!). Everyone got fair well plastered except myself and Matt. We trundled William into the back of Matt’s car, all spinny-headed and dreamy. I was sitting in the passenger seat.
“Lyza. I have something that is going to make your week.”
“Your word is going to be in the next edition.”
“Except not the one you think. I kept hearing you use ‘food coma.’ I did some research and it turns out it is in common enough usage. So it will be there. The definition will be ‘a lethargic state induced by eating too much food.’”
“William, you just made my year.”
That was 2001. The full Third Edition of the OED is not due out until something wild like 2018 or 2037. Over the years, I’ve told the story, but my own belief of it had flagged. Maybe William was making fun of me. Maybe he didn’t work for the Oxford English Dictionary at all (and actually, there’s no one listed on Oxford’s staff page with his (real) name). Maybe he was just drunk. Maybe I imagined the whole thing.
This week I am reading The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester, a history of the creation of the OED. It has me rabidly enthused. Near frantic with interest. And so it occurred to me that I wanted to find out once and for all.
The Oxford University Press releases updates, towards its Third Edition, in the online version. It costs a fair chunk to subscribe to the online version, however, and I couldn’t be sure the “Fs” were all updated, at least not without legwork, and I’m lazy.
I emailed my mother this morning to ask if the Multnomah County Library was a subscriber. She emailed back to tell me that they not only subscribed, but anyone with a valid library card ID number could access it via the Library’s Web Site.
Holy Mackerel! I was over there in a flash, logged in and searched. Lo. And behold:
“food coma n. U.S. a lethargic state induced by eating, esp. a large quantity of (freq. rich or unhealthy) food.”
This has again made my year.
As an aside, the first known use of ‘food coma’, as cited in the entry, was in 1991. The source? alt.sex.bondage in message entitled “re: Threesome.”
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