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Cuppa and other words first used by P.G. Wodehouse

P.G. Wodehouse

P.G. Wodehouse

When you think of P.G. Wodehouse, you think of pigs, aunts, potty earls and dapper younger brothers, unflappable omniscient butlers, goofy young men and irresistible young women – and a language that’s absolutely unique, peppered with words and phrases as funny  and bizarre as the situations the characters get into. Wodehouse uses words and expressions such as “oojah-cum-spiff’, “rannygazoo”  and “twenty-minute egg”.  Colourful, outlandish, memorable.

But did you know he was the first writer known to have used  the word “cuppa” ? It’s such a common word. Yet, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the first evidence of the word comes from him.  The OED has 1,756 quotations from Wodehouse.  Here are the 22 words which, according to the OED, first appeared in the writings of Wodehouse.  Here are the words, in alphabetical order, followed by the quotations from Wodehouse. The entries are all from the OED.

  • Billiken: A small, squat, smiling figure used as a mascot.
    1914   P. G. Wodehouse Man Upstairs 257   When you send a girl three bouquets, a bracelet, and a gold Billiken with ruby eyes, you do not expect an entire absence of recognition
  • Crispish: Somewhat crisp.
    1930   P. G. Wodehouse Very Good, Jeeves vi. 142   When not pleased Aunt Dahlia, having spent most of her youth in the hunting-field, has a crispish way of expressing herself.
  •  Cuppa:  A form, freq. in modern times, of cup o’. Also used ellipt. for cup o’ tea. colloq.
    1925   P. G. Wodehouse Sam the Sudden vi. 42   Come and have a cuppa coffee. [click to continue…]

How words get into the Oxford English Dictionary

I have seen the word "linguaphile" (meaning word lover or language lover) on Dictionary.com and the Free Dictionary, but it's not there in the Oxford English Dictionary. It no longer tries to be comprehensive. "The language is expanding so fast this may be an impossible mission," said Edmund Weiner, deputy chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Mark Abley recalls their conversation in his book, The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English, where he also writes about Singlish and other variants of the English language, as I mentioned here.

"The Internet poses problems," said Weiner. "We tend to avoid citing the Web unless we feel we really have to. What we've tended to cite are newsgroups and discussion groups – they guarantee to archive them for a long time. We've occasionally taken quotations from websites. But we don't like doing that."

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