When Dictionaries Blog

Can Brendan Fraser and Pauly Shore teach us something about how language evolves? Blissfully, the answer is yes.

I’ve known for quite some time that The American Heritage Dictionary has a blog—I do work at HMH after all. But just this week, I discovered that the Oxford English Dictionary does, too. Between the two, I’ve been in blog (procrastination?) heaven.

Take, for example, this post on Oxford’s blog about the roots and current usage of the word “bro”—or as their blog calls it, “The Rise of the Portmanbro.” It not only traces the early uses of the word, but quotes the Brendan Fraser classic Encino Man as one of the turning points in how the word is used currently. Who knew Encino Man had such cultural cache?

The blog is also careful not to pin down a meaning too carefully, but it does ascribe at least one key attribute: “The specific cultural attributes of such men are shifting and elusive, but one defining feature is a tendency to use the word bro. A lot.”

It also points to the abundance of “portmanbros” that have arisen—it’s not all about the bromance anymore: “plenty of other portmanbros have achieved widespread currency: bro-hug has appeared in the New York Times at least 8 times since 2010, and brogrammer has recently shot to prominence in discussions about the gender politics of Silicon Valley.”

The American Heritage Dictionary, for its part, is pondering such engrossing questions as “Ax or axe?” And what it lacks in snarky tone (yeah, I’m looking at you, Oxford blog), it makes up for in fun facts. Just as Oxford cited Encino Man, the AHD is happy to take So I Married an Axe Murderer as a sign of cultural usage.  But did you know that “axe” is technically not correct usage in American English?

Mike Myers, happily promoting the misspelling of the word “ax.”

Did you also know that most people use “axe” instead of “ax,” proper usage be damned? Indeed, the AHD blog points out that, “Home Depot and Wal-Mart will be happy to sell you an axe, but if you go to their websites wanting an ax your options will be much more limited.”

So where does this leave us? Well, if you put together Oxford’s breakdown of bro with the AHD’s examination of ax/axe, one key connection becomes clear—in the wearing of the AXE body spray by young bros everywhere. Ah, the sweet smell of brofume.



Writen by Cynthia

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