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Buffy The Vampire SlayerJoss Makes the Oxford English Dictionary
Thursday 11 September 2003, by Webmaster
Raving bonkers, much! Radio, film, and television scripts in the OED Among the 130,000 illustrative quotations included in the first volume of the Supplement to the OED, published in 1972, were four quotations illustrating the slang word bonkers. The quotation paragraph did not look especially out of the ordinary. However, sandwiched between a citation from John Osborne’s play The Entertainer and a 1967 citation from the Spectator was the following quotation:
1961 Simpson & Galton Four Hancock Scripts 60/2 By half-past three he’ll be raving bonkers. The bibliographic short title of this work belies its true significance, for the full title was Four Hancock Scripts for Television, and this was the first time the OED had cited from the script of a broadcast programme - albeit from a script published commercially rather than from the actual shooting script itself. Further citations from Four Hancock Scripts appeared again later on in the same volume of the Supplement, illustrating Charlie a fool and cor blimey. Eventually Four Hancock Scripts played its trump card by providing the first evidence for the exclamation stone me, published in the fourth volume of the Supplement in 1986.
The significance of the OED being able to cite from such scripts was that there was now yet another source of material from which to provide illustrative examples: a source that by its very nature attempted to replicate the language as it is spoken. This meant that scripts would often provide useful contextual examples of everyday speech, especially colloquialisms, which generally were harder to track down outside the glossarial examples provided by slang dictionaries - the first quotation for bonkers itself being from Partridge’s Dictionary of Forces’ Slang (1948).
The fact that the scripts recording this language were being broadcast to a very large audience, and therefore could potentially have a great influence on English, also meant that the published volumes of these scripts were becoming an increasingly valuable resource for OED editors in documenting the English language.
A further development was the decision to allow the citing of broadcast scripts that had not been conventionally published. The first of these quotations, from a script for a CBS Radio programme broadcast in 1955, appeared in the third volume of the Supplement (1982) illustrating quality of life: He [sc. Adlai Stevenson] seems disturbed about the quality of American life, when most politicians measure it only in quantity.
This opened up yet further the resources available to OED editors when tracking down the first use of any given word. For example, take the recent new entry in OED Online for big girl’s blouse (published in June 2002). This phrase was popularized in the 1980s by its use in an episode of the BBC comedy series Blackadder the Third, although there was unsubstantiated evidence on the Internet implying that it was a catchphrase in the stage act of Hylda Baker, a comedienne of the 1940s and 50s. Unfortunately there were no written records of her stage act to verify this. However Ms Baker subsequently went on to appear in the television comedy series Nearest and Dearest, and many of the catchphrases that she had used in her stage act were carried over into this television series. As a result of a speculative research enquiry by an OED editor to an archivist at Granada television, it was confirmed that the phrase was indeed used there, and the resulting citation from a 1969 camera script provided the OED with a much earlier antedating for the phrase than had initially been expected.
Citations from original broadcast scripts have also furnished the OED with antedatings for (among other things): the Big E (the big elbow, i.e. a brush off) from the camera script of an episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? (from 1973); magic (in the slang sense meaning fantastic), from the film script to the Ealing thriller The Long Arm (1956); Indian (the noun, used colloquially to mean an Indian meal) from a 1982 shooting script to the soap opera Brookside (though sadly the Asian comedy show Goodness Gracious Me’s reciprocal coinage an English is otherwise unattested); and much (a colloquial use of the adverb, forming elliptical questions or comments) cited from the film script to the high-school satire Heathers (1988), a sense whose whole quotation paragraph reflects the influence that film and television have had in shaping the language, with further quotations from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer film script and a shooting script from the U.S. television series The Sopranos.
As can be seen some of these scripts are simply reflecting current colloquial language (whilst bringing it to the attention of a much wider audience), whereas other scripts are more actively influencing the language with their own coinages. In both cases however citing from these scripts has enabled the OED to record the way in which English has changed since the advent of broadcasting.
The growing availability of film and television scripts, aided by the recent inclusion of scripts on some electronic databases, will enable the OED in the future to record their influence on the language with greater accuracy still.
Nick Shearing, Senior Assistant Editor, OED