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Open Dictionary Word of the Month: domestic engineer

© PhotoDisc / Getty ImagesSubmissions to the Open Dictionary in May were similar in number to April’s, with around one third of submitted entries again being approved for publication. The new entries were the usual mix of recent coinages and new meanings, specialized or technical terms, rare words, abbreviations, and a few standard words and phrases that had just not previously been included the dictionary for some reason.

One of the most popular ways of forming new words is the creation of new blends or portmanteau words, and several of May’s entries fall into this category, including bestimate, doomeranger, gazillionaire, promposal, sexposition, and smombie. On a recent trip to Shanghai I saw plenty of smombies, though none who were unfortunate enough to suffer an accident as a result of this dangerous habit. While portmanteaux are popular with journalists and can be very pleasing, they often tend to be shortlived. It will be interesting to see if any of these survive the next few months and years.



May’s clutch of new entries includes the usual crop of technical and scientific terms, including holophote, neonicotinoid, neurodiverse, phytotherapist and xanthosis. New abbreviations include DSL, NCGS, NLU, and TLA itself, as well as the topical and more familiar PAC. As always the meanings are opaque, unless they come from an area you happen to be familiar with.

Our citizen lexicographers often submit rare, dated or highly literary terms. While there is a good reason why these have not been included in Macmillan Dictionary, which focuses on current language that is most useful to learners of English, they are most welcome in the Open Dictionary and some, of course, will in time be promoted into Macmillan Dictionary. Words of this type submitted in May include freshet (from hamid in Iran), homunculus (from KristinaBART in Russian Federation), Hudibrastic (from Fatma in Egypt), noggin (from Ezzo in Mongolia), rapscallion (from Vesper in Germany), sepoy (from Anjaly in Saudi Arabia) and ultracrepidarian (from Alarica in the US). Excellent words all and welcome additions to the Open Dictionary.

My word of the month is domestic engineer. The term, which seems to have appeared in the mid 2000s, was submitted by Aishwarya R Ranganath from India. It represents a (humorous) attempt to elevate the status of homemakers to that of people engaged in paid employment outside the home and, unlike terms such as stay-at-home mom and housewife, has the benefit of being gender-neutral.

Thanks for all your submissions and do keep them coming. If there’s a word or expression that you think deserves inclusion in the Open Dictionary you can submit it here. Don’t forget to check first to make sure your word isn’t in our dictionary already.

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Liz Potter

2 Comments

  • My mom called herself a domestic engineer while I was a kid in the 1950s. Might not have appeared in print that long ago, but it was around. And my friends and I were using “gazillionaire” probably by high school in the 1960s. So those 2 may be older than you think.

  • Thanks for your interesting comment. You have prompted me to look up ‘domestic engineer’ in Google ngram, which is what I should have done in the first place.
    The term appeared first in the mid 19th century, though of course there’s no way of telling if this was for the meaning of ‘homemaker’ or a more literal use. Also ngram tracks usage in books so it doesn’t give us any information about spoken usage. It was infrequently used in writing in the 60s when your mother was using it, then there were modest spikes in use in the 1980s and 90s.
    As you say, these words that suddenly come to our attention are often older than we think.

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