Don’t Use This Acronym: CW’s Laurel Sutton Has a Place in the OED


On my desk sits the Compact version of the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the most amazing publications ever put together by humans.  It is the definitive record of the English language, featuring 600,000 words and 3 million quotations; each word features a list of citations for usage, going all the way back to the first attested uses, some of which are over 1000 years old.

Language changes constantly, of course, and the OED is always being updated. Since 2000 it’s been available by subscription online, which makes it much easier to keep up with the latest additions, which come out four times a year. The new words list for June 2013 included entries like flash mob, fracking, geekery, head trip, knobhead, kombucha, and live blog. The OED keeps up with the times!

Besides new words, the OED also updates first uses for words already in the dictionary. This year, I was alerted by the lovely and talented Ben Zimmer that I was in line to be a first-use citation! OK, maybe this doesn’t mean a lot to you, but to a super-geek linguist like me, it’s a really big deal. I am in the OED!

The bad part is which word for which I have been cited. The word in question, MILF, is an awful acronym that first ran across while in graduate school, when I was doing data-gathering in 1991 on slang used by undergrads. Then, as now (and always) there was an abundance of words that reduced women to their desirability as sexual object to men, mostly of the negative type. If the words themselves aren’t insulting (like skank and hobag), they’re condescending, which is what I said about MILF in my paper. (For those of you who don’t wish to Google, MILF stands for “mother I’d like to f***”. Yeah. That.)

So, as I’ve said to my linguist friends, I’m both gratified and mortified to be cited in the OED. The citation will live on long after I’m gone. I can only hope that future generations will find this word quaintly offensive, and say “Sure glad we don’t talk like that anymore.”


Do your favorite pet names date from 10, 100, or 1000 years ago?
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