Wall Street Journal

http://www.wsj.com/articles/britain-to-leave-the-eu-but-brexit-to-join-the-oxford-english-dictionary-1481760061

Britain to Leave the EU, but ‘Brexit’ to Join the Oxford English Dictionary

The self-described record of the English language includes the word ‘Brexit’ in update

Photo: Zuma Press

Dec. 14, 2016 7:01 p.m. ET

LONDON—It’s official. Brexit means “the (proposed) withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, and the political process associated with it.”

So says the Oxford English Dictionary, the self-described definitive record of the English language, which included the word for the first time in its latest quarterly update announced on Thursday.

The OED said the word filled an “empty space” in the English language and reflected the growing importance of the phenomenon it describes.  Foreign newspapers have used it on their front pages, showing it is now used globally, it said.

The definition says the word is also sometimes used to reference the June 23 referendum in which voters chose to leave the EU.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said the U.K. will begin the formal process for leaving by the end of March, but many questions remain about what Brexit will mean in practice.  Mrs. May has declined to detail her strategy, parrying questions with the phrase, “Brexit means Brexit.”

Fiona McPherson, a senior editor at the dictionary, said the word had grown in use rapidly since it was coined in a blog in 2012 by Peter Wilding, the director of a think tank that supports EU membership.

The OED bills itself as a guide to the meaning, history and pronunciation of more than 829,000 words, senses and compounds from across the English-speaking world.  There is no hard threshold for inclusion, but it represents recognition that a word has reached a level of general use.

“A word means what it means because of the way that people use it,” Ms. McPherson said.

Other new entries range from “get your freak on,” meaning to engage in sexual activity to “verklempt,” meaning overwhelmed by emotion.

Brexit was on the OED’s “Word of the Year” shortlist in 2015, losing out to an emoji known as “face with tears of joy.”

Mr. Wilding said before the announcement he realized only this year he had coined the word after he saw someone give him credit on Twitter.  He said the inspiration was the term “Grexit,” which refers to the possible exit of Greece from the eurozone and is also being included in the OED in the latest update.  Mr. Wilding, who recently launched a campaign to keep the U.K. in the European single market, said inventing a word, was “not the kind of thing you do every day.”

“And it is particularly funny because when I first wrote it I had no idea and I completely forgot about it,” he said, adding that now, “it is everywhere.”

Write to Nicholas Winning at nick.winning@wsj.com

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