Here’s why the OED is so great. Four times a year, they issue a list of new and updated entries; the latest, from March, is called “ovest to Papua New Guinean.” Naturally, I looked up “ovest,” thinking that it might be a borrowing of the Italian word for ‘west’ (Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho!, for instance, is Verso ovest in Italian), but no: it’s a dialectal word for ‘acorns and oak mast.’ It’s the modern form (with an excrescent, or epenthetic, -s- from somewhere or other, perhaps harvest) of the Old English ofet ‘fruit’ (spelled obet in early glosses), which is related to German Obst. The Old English poem known as Genesis B has a line “Adam, frea min, þis ofet is swa swete” [Adam, my lord/master/husband, this fruit is so sweet], and the 14th-century Ayenbite of Inwit has this rendition of a famous line of the Ave Maria: “Y-blissed þou ine wymmen, and y-blissed þet ouet of þine wombe.” After the 14th century it goes underground for half a millennium, reappearing as a dialect word from Hampshire:

1866 R. D. BLACKMORE Cradock Nowell (1883) xxxi. 176 The hogs skittered home from the ovest. 1871 J. R. WISE New Forest 183 in W. H. Cope Gloss. Hampshire Words 65 The mast and acorns of the oak are collectively known as the turn-out or ovest.

Now, this word was not unknown to the first edition of the OED, but there it was entered under “ovet. Obs. exc. dial. (ovest)”; in the century since then (the fascicle Outjet-Ozyat appeared in January 1904) they not only added the second dialect citation, they decided (quite rightly) that it should be entered under the modern spelling. Furthermore, they dug up the derived word ovesting and added that as a new entry:

Eng. regional (Hampshire). Now rare.
The action of feeding on acorns and mast.
1903 Eng. Dial. Dict. IV. 393/2 Pigs may be turned out only by those who have the right, and by them only in the legal Ovesting or Pawnage months—that is to say, from September 25th to November 22nd, when the acorn and beech mast have fallen to the ground of their over-ripeness. 1906 A. MARSHALL Richard Baldock iii. 28 Sometimes a drove of black pigs would cross his path, fussily intent on their ovesting.

When they issue their quarterly announcements, press attention is always focused on the new and exciting words: in this case, say, OxyContin, Ozzie and Harriet, P2P, and Palm Pilot, as well as the out-of-sequence aloo chaat, Beantown, cool Britannia, Deadhead, and Dogme (though I myself am particularly fond of Disgusted ‘Originally as a self-designation: a member of the public who writes anonymously to a newspaper expressing outrage about a particular issue. Hence more widely: a person who is vocal and indignant in his or her opposition to something’ and pace tanti viri dixerim ‘with due respect to so eminent a man’). But the inclusion of new and exciting words is a matter of canny self-promotion as well as lexicography; every dictionary trumpets its hot-off-the-presses innovations (many of which wither on the vine and are quietly dropped from future editions). The OED isn’t going to get any publicity or financial reward from improving the entry for an obscure dialectal word; they do it purely because they’re committed to documenting the language and its history as thoroughly as possible, and I love them for it.


  1. Yes, the OED is great, especially the new entries. My only complaint would be the lack of some cognates in the words’ etymologies, viz. a Sanskrit and Old Persian cognate in the etymology of nail, n. (both present in the OED2 entry) and a Greek cognate in the etymology of mund, n. or manus, n.1 (not present in the OED2 entry). It’s possible, though, that they could be added in the future, for the new entries are considered draft revisions.

  2. What is “mast” in this context?

  3. You’ve got it the wrong way round — those words have been dropped because the OED no longer considers them cognates (Vasmer does not mention either the Skt or OPers forms in his etymology of nogot’, for instance). Actually, the etymology of nail is another example of the OED’s careful labor in areas that wouldn’t be noticed except by a few. It’s been entirely rewritten, starting off with three forms of a Frisian word (Old Frisian neil) that wasn’t even in the first edition (Frisian being the closest language to English), adding more detail to the Scandinavian section, eliminating the nonexistent “Gothic *nagls,” and replacing the quaint formula “from a root nag-… obscurely represented in Latin unguis, Old Irish ingen, Greek ónux, ónukhos, OPers nāχun, Skt. nakhás” with “[from] a suffixed (diminutive) form of the Indo-European base of ancient Greek ónux fingernail, claw, talon, classical Latin unguis fingernail, claw, hook, Old Church Slavonic noga foot, Russian noga foot, Lithuanian nagas fingernail, toenail, naga hoof; cf. also (with different root extensions) Old Church Slavonic nogŭtĭ fingernail, toenail, claw, Russian nogot´ fingernail, toenail, and Old Irish ingen fingernail, Old Welsh eguin (Welsh ewin) nail, claw.” They’ve made the definitions more precise, clarified that they mean ancient Greek and classical Latin, and added Welsh (lacking in the original) as well as deleting the misleading Skt and OPers forms. Another job well done, OED!
    [On preview: Sorry, Jeremy, I took so long composing my response to the first comment — I had breakfast in the middle — that I missed yours; fortunately, Martin stepped in and pinch-hit for me.]

  4. Mast: basically any nuts and seeds that have fallen to the forest floor.

  5. I’ll be damned. I would have thought that too, but Merriam-Webster Unabridged, a newer and source for etymology I thought, had the same Sanskrit form listed as a cognate (but not the Old Persian one), so I assumed that two were indeed cognate but just omitted from the OED3 for some reason beyond me. I need to find out the age of Merriam-Webster Unabridged‘s etymology.
    Thanks, language hat.

  6. Assuming you mean Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, it came out in 1961 and thus reflects etymological work done 50 or more years ago. I once spoke to the current chief etymologist about a dubious etymology (aggrey) and he said “Oh, that was done back in the ’20s, and there was hardly any information about West African languages…” In this case, I imagine either they took over the forms from the OED or both they and the OED relied on some now-superseded source.

  7. Wow. I was thinking it was no more than 15 or so years old. I was going to cite Greek gymnos, found in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, as another possibily missing cognate in the OED3 for the entry naked, but now I suppose that it is WTNID of the EL that is in the wrong (only because of its age, of course). Also, I just checked the OED2 entry for naked and discovered that there is no Greek cognate listed there.
    Now that that I have a better understanding of these two sources, that is, the OED3 and WTNID of the EL, I more trust the OED3 over WTNID of the EL.

  8. Another good source is the American Heritage Dictionary, online here (use “Quick Dictionary/Thesaurus Lookup”); the naked entry takes you to the PIE *nogw- root, where you can see that AHD does include Greek gumnos, “with metathesis due to taboo deformation” — some etymologists accept the relationship and others don’t. Vasmer doesn’t, for instance. “Taboo deformation” is a tricksy move — it exists, but is a little too convenient when the forms don’t really match.

  9. lucy taylor says

    im researching into the changes of new words entered into the oed, do you know of any so called “list” that i can get hold off with the earlist entries say from approx 1990’s? or any linguists that have researched it? or anything at all will help! cheers. any info please email me.

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