Eating our words
Ever wonder when 'pad thai' was added to the Oxford English Dictionary? It was 1978.
Merguez, orecchiette, tikka masala, veggie. What do those words have in common? They were all added to the Oxford English Dictionary in the same year, 1975.
Ryan Haley, an editor at Ugly Duckling Presse and librarian in the Art Division of New York Public Library (and born in 1975), recently published a limited edition artist’s book. In Autobiography, Volume One (1975-1993), he documents the first eighteen years of his life by chronologically listing the words added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in that time period.
On its website, the OED is described as "an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of over half a million words, both past and present," and is the considered to be "the definitive record of the English language." Every year the OED adds new words to the dictionary, thereby cementing that word or phrase to the annals of history. When compiled together, as in this project, the list of words reads like a time capsule capturing the social history of a given year. And while most (if not all) of the added words had been in use before their entry date, their addition to the OED represents when they became more commonly used in the English language.
I was fascinated with the food words in this project, and how certain themes clearly emerge, specifically coffee drinks, ethnic foods, and name brands. For example: Espresso-macchiato and latte macchiato (1976), Shake 'n Bake (1976), kir royale (1977), pad thai (1978), pasta fagioli (1980), amuse-bouche (1982), microbrew (1985).
Rebecca Federman is the New York Public Library's Culinary Collections Librarian and Electronic Resources Coordinator. Rebecca writes about the culinary collections at the Library on her blog Cooked Books and enjoys exploring New York for delicious eats.
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I asked Ryan some questions about Autobiography.
Cooked Books: Do you have any favorite food words from this project?
Ryan Haley: I really didn’t pay too much attention to the words as I was assembling the book. Once I had thought of and fine-tuned the idea, the words themselves ceased to be really important. I think it’s only recently as I’ve “read” through the book that I’ve started to notice the kinds of words that were added within that time and sort of ponder the cultural or historical moment that gave the word currency or legitimacy. For example, McDonaldization from 1975; used as a term for the corporatization of culture or for American cultural homogeny. What was happening then? Did a chez McDo open on the Champs-Élyssées? Did the last Mom & Pop restaurant close down in Peoria? Well, the OED references this book by Jim Hightower called Eat Your Heart Out: Food Profiteering in America as the first (popular/documented) use. I haven’t read it, but summary descriptions indicate that book was quite influential in some of the anti-corporate/back-to-the-land ethos of the late-70’s. Then in 1979 you get McDonaldize, which is somewhat related and in 1982 you have just plain old McDonald’s…