The OED’s Surf Consultant.

A nice squib by Nick Paumgarten from the New Yorker about Matt Warshaw, “the world’s leading surfing scholar”:

Warshaw is the world’s leading surfing scholar, the Linnaeus of the lineup. Over the years, he has assembled a research library, in his home, of hundreds of books, thousands of periodicals, and some three hundred and fifty movies, and created a database: logged, indexed, searchable. From all this, and from his own experience as a California beach rat, middling pro surfer, and surfing writer, he composed the idiosyncratic yet authoritative “Encyclopedia of Surfing,” which was published, to wide acclaim, in 2003. “I decided to rule this domain that no one gives a shit about,” he said the other day. In the past half-dozen years, he’s been transferring the encyclopedia’s fifteen hundred-odd entries to the Web, and adding many new ones, along with a wealth of photographs and videos. He has likened this migration to Dorothy’s arrival in Oz.

Within a day of the request from Oxford, Warshaw came across, in his stacks, a mention of “tandem surfing” from 1935. You can now find, in the O.E.D.’s Web edition, the following citation: “T. Blake Hawaiian Surfboard (front material, verso of fifth leaf) (caption): ‘A tourist, without surfboard experience, can enjoy . . . tandem surfing. The boy in most cases does most of the work, his partner enjoys the rides.’ ”

The O.E.D. sent Warshaw a few more terms, and before long hired him to be its first-ever Surf Consultant (total pay: four hundred pounds). The O.E.D. has some three hundred consultants, who provide an extra layer of expert scrutiny in such areas of arcana as falconry and wine. It has always tried to keep up with American slang; noted recent additions are “Masshole” and “vape.” “Clearly, they felt they needed to up their surf game,” Warshaw said. He speculated that there was a closet surfer on staff.

It turns out there was indeed a closet surfer, senior editor David Martin, who says: “A surf word that we are currently tracking is the verb ‘chandelier.’ It seems to be used with reference to the lip at the opening of a barrelling wave closing in on or falling on top of a surfer.” Vivid stuff, surfing vocabulary.


  1. I love the word “Masshole,” but as soon as I saw it mentioned, I suspect that the OED would not quite get the meaning right. I checked, and the quoted definition is: “A term of contempt for: a native or inhabitant of the state of Massachusetts.” That’s certainly part of the meaning, but that’s not quite the whole story. A “Masshole” is generally somebody from the Commonwealth behaving boorishly outside Massachusetts; it’s a term usually used by more northerly New Englanders. Two the three citations specifically refer to “Massholes” on vacation in New Hampshire and Maine; the third appears not to. So the OED isn’t quite wrong, but the entry doesn’t capture the most important specific use of the term.

  2. Write them about it; you might become their first New England insults consultant.

  3. I believe that it’s equally valid within the Commonwealth for stereotypical bad behavior. For example, at UHub, it’s mostly drivers.

  4. I’ve often seen it used it as a self-descriptor.

  5. Yes, it’s definitely used in-state; in fact, I was unaware of it until I moved here.

  6. In fact, on the first page of the Universal Hub stories that were tagged with “Masshole,” they were all about automotive matters. The other OED citation was about bad driving as well. So there does seem to be a specific secondary meaning referring to people from Massachusetts who are bad at driving and parking.

  7. I am aware of “vape” meaning “to inhale the vapour of an e-cigarette”; is that the slang meaning that is considered American or is there another one?

  8. That’s the one. Here are the senses in the current entry (Third Edition, June 2015):

    1. trans. Science Fiction. To vaporize by means of a weapon; to destroy completely, annihilate.

    1983 A. D. Foster Man who used Universe v. 65 You can’t just send over a couple of bullywots to vape him.
    1999 M. A. Stackpole I, Jedi 557 She’ll vape the Venture, then vape us.
    2004 C. Stross Iron Sunrise 72 We are all vulnerable, because whoever vaped New Moscow has gotten clean away with a monstrous crime.

    2. trans. and intr. colloq. To inhale and exhale the vapour of (a substance) using an electronic cigarette or similar device; to use (such a device) in this way. Cf. vaping n.

    1999 Vaporizers in alt.drugs.pot (Usenet newsgroup) 8 Apr. Vaporizers smell, but more of a popcornish piney type smell with maybe a hint of skunk (if you’re smoking..or vaping the good stuff).
    2009 Slate Mag. (Nexis) 6 Apr. I wanted to vape in her face and say, ‘What’s it to you?’ Instead, I smiled and took my e-cig and pretended to put it out.
    2012 Cumberland (Maryland) Times News 30 Jan. 1 (heading) Smokers find ‘vaping’ electronic cigarettes beats tobacco version.
    2014 Orange County (Calif.) Reg. (Nexis) 26 Sept. Disneyland..posted signs at their entrances telling guests who use e-cigarettes that they can vape only in designated smoking spots.
    2014 Los Angeles Times (Nexis) 5 Dec. aa2 No one claims that vaping nicotine is actually good for you, but many doctors say it is far less dangerous than smoking cigarettes.

    Nothing about “U.S.,” though.

  9. SF futuristic slang often relies on this kind of abbreviation (vape, bot, droid), which comes off as bro-slang register more than anything.

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    General American teen slang over the last few generations has often taken in lexemes or idioms which were first regionalisms in Southern California teen slang, and in turn SoCal teen slang has often taken in lexemes or idioms which were originally innovated in surfer jargon. So it’s an important variety of English — although I guess maybe tracking those expressions which escape the surfing subculture into some more widely used variety of English (and may mutate or drift semantically along the way) might be someone else’s job at the OED?

  11. “Gnarly,” for example, had a completely different meaning in 1970s surfer lingo from what it meant when I was growing up in Oregon in the ’80s.

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