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Covfefe, kompromat, and mugwump: your guide to every new word in the 2018 Brewer's Dictionary

Suzie Dent has edited the new edition, which quotes Donald Trump and Boris Johnson
Suzie Dent has edited the new edition, which quotes Donald Trump and Boris Johnson Credit: UPI/Getty/Hodder

Philip Pullman, JK Rowling and Terry Pratchett have all turned to its pages for inspiration. For almost 150 years it has been a celebrated treasure-trove of curious words, forgotten folklore and colourful olde worlde insults (from “fopdoodle” to “fustilugs”).

But now Brewer’s Dictionary of Folklore and Fable is tackling the language of 2018, in a special anniversary edition edited by Countdown’s Suzie Dent. The Telegraph can today exclusively publish the full list of new words for the 20th edition, out in bookshops from tomorrow.

Brexit,” “safe space” and “snowflake generation” are all put under the linguistic microscope. Donald Trump’s “covfefe” blunder is preserved for posterity, while the surprising history behind the word “mugwump” (memorably used by Boris Johnson in 2017) is explained in full.

Some of the political definitions are likely to provoke debate, but there's plenty of light relief, too: any fans of BBC One’s Bodyguard wondering what “kompromat” means will find the answer here.

As well as new words, there are historical terms missed out from the last edition in 2012 (“flemensfirth”, anyone?) and interesting slang from around the world: in India, “iddy-umpty” is more serious than it sounds.

First published in 1870, 14 years before the first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary (then called the New English Dictionary), Brewer’s aimed to capture all the oddities other dictionaries leave out.

It was described by its creator Reverend Ebenezer Cobham Brewer as a “sweep-net of a book” for “trifles too insignificant to find a place in books of higher pretension, but not too worthless to be worth knowing.”

Where else would the ancient Greek idea of "hamartia" be explained by reference to the Back to the Future movies?

It’s opinionated, incomplete, haphazard and strangely addictive. “Reading one item in Brewer’s is like eating one peanut. It’s practically impossible,” Pratchett once wrote. “You might not find what you’re looking for, but you will find three completely unexpected things that are probably more interesting.”

The new entries:

Alt-left

A term used by supporters of far-right political movements to characterise their opponents and critics, perhaps in an attempt to reduce them to a group in direct political opposition rather than a broad range of people who are against far-right beliefs.

Alt-right

An extreme far-right, white nationalist political movement which began in the United States.  Supporters of the movement characteristically use social media to disseminate their reactionary and highly controversial views.

Anaphora

(Greek, ‘carrying back’) A rhetorical device involving the repetition of a word or group of words in successive clauses. It is commonly found in ballad and song, as well as in oratory.

"Who by high ordeal, who by common trial...

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,

Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt..." (Leonard Cohen: Who By Fire)

Antelucan

Before dawn or daylight.

Hardly anything could be more isolated or more self-contained than the lives of these two walking here in the lonely antelucan hour, when gray shades, material and mental, are so very gray. (The Woodlanders, Thomas Hardy)

Antifa

A political protest movement opposed to fascism and far-right movements and comprised of many different and autonomous anti-fascist groups.  The name is shortened from Antifaschistische Aktion, a group formed in Germany in 1932 to oppose fascism.

Athame

A double-sided, ceremonial dagger used in the religion Wicca and in pagan rituals.

Baldric or baldrick

A warrior’s belt or shoulder sash, for supporting a sword, etc. ‘Baldrick’ is the name of the servant on the television comedy series Blackadder. The character often states that he has ‘a cunning plan’ in solution to each of the many farcical crises that occur during the course of each episode. Invariably ridiculed for their implausibility by the eponymous character, these plans are eventually resorted to in desperation and often under the threat of painful death.

Tony Robinson (left) as Baldrick, with Rowan Atkinson in Blackadder
Birther

Someone who incorrectly believes or promotes the idea that Barack Obama (b. 1961), President of the United States 2009–2017, was not born in the United States, had forged his birth certificate, and was not eligible to be president.

Bisexual

Someone who can be romantically and sexually attracted to anyone, regardless of gender.

Bitcoin

A digital currency that works without a central bank or single administrator, with transactions taking place using encrypted technology. The currency was created by an unknown person or group under the name of Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009.

Black lives matter

An international movement that originated in the Black American community for the purpose of campaigning against systemic racism and violence inflicted on black people. It began in July 2013 with the use on social media of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter after George Zimmerman was acquitted of the second-degree murder and manslaughter of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Blodeuwedd

A mythical Welsh woman and central figure of the last branch of THE FOUR BRANCHES OF THE MABIGONI, Blodeuwedd was made from the flowers of broom, meadowsweet, and oak.

Brexit

A popular term for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, following a referendum on 23 June 2016, when 51.9% of the participating UK electorate voted to leave. The word comes from ‘British’ and ‘exit’ and is understood to be analogous with ‘Grexit’, from ‘Greek’ and ‘exit’, used to describe the possible Greek withdrawal from the eurozone. While the withdrawal is being discussed, the term ‘hard Brexit’ is used to describe the prospect of the UK trading with the EU like other non-EU-member countries, and ‘soft Brexit’ is used to describe the prospect of retaining membership of the EU single market and customs union and some free movement of people. Those in favour of the Brexit process have been called Brexiteers or Leavers, and those opposed to the process have been called Remainers, or Remoaners by their opponents.

Cis or Cisgender

This word is used to denote or describe someone whose gender identity corresponds with that which they were assigned at birth.

Clickbait

Intriguing or sensational internet hyperlinks that encourage readers to click through to another website.

Climate change

A change in local, regional or global weather conditions. This term is commonly used to refer to the gradual increase in the earth’s temperature  due to the trapping of solar radiation, which would otherwise be reflected back into space, by carbon dioxide (produced by the burning of fossil fuels, chlorofluorocarbons, natural methane emissions, etc) and other greenhouse gases. Someone who refuses to believe that this is occurring is called a ‘climate denier’ or ‘climate change denier’.

Clootie well

In Celtic tradition, a well or spring thought to be sacred. Cloths are dipped in the water and tied to nearby trees as offerings to fairies, spirits, saints or elfs as a healing ritual. The most popular times for pilgrimages to these wells is on the old Gaelic festival days of Imbolc (1 February), Beltane (1 May), Lughnasadh (1 August), or Samhain (1 November). ‘Clootie’ is the Scots word for ‘cloth’.

Cloud, the

A term used for the internet, regarded as a repository of software and files  that can be accessed without having to be installed on a personal computer.

Covfefe

On May 31 2017, Donald Trump (b. 1946), President of the United States 2017–, tweeted: ‘Despite the constant negative press covfefe’. This incomplete, nonsense tweet was later deleted, but not before it had gone viral. Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary at the time, said ‘the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant’, which led the Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg to comment that ‘Spicer feels compelled to protect the myth of Trumpian infallibility at all costs’.

Later in 2017, the Democrat representative Mike Quigley introduced the Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically for Engagement Act (COVFEFE Act), a bill to amend the Presidential Record Act to cover social media, requiring tweets and other social media posts by the President of the United States to be preserved under law.

Dark net or dark web

A part of the ‘deep web’, that part of the world wide web which is only accessible through specialised software, allowing users to remain anonymous and untraceable.

Dreamers

Undocumented migrants who arrived in the United States as children, so called after the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act that would have offered them the chance of permanent, legal residency. The DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001 and has repeatedly failed to pass in Congress. In 2012, Barack Obama (b. 1961), President of the United States 2009–2017 created Daca, a federal government programme that allowed people brought to the US illegally as children the temporary right to live, study and work in America. In September 2017, the Trump administration announced that it would cancel the Daca programme. This had been an election promise in 2016.

Elfbelt

In Orcadian folklore, a silver belt worn for protection against attacks from elfs or fairies.

Empty chair

To leave a vacant chair in place of someone who has withdrawn from participation in a debate or public meeting, usually because of a disagreement or dispute.

ENBY

A person who identifies as neither male nor female. The word is a spelling of the pronunciation ‘NB’, an abbreviation of non-binary.

Fake News

Propaganda or false and often sensational journalism, characterised by exaggerated headlines, that is presented as serious news and used to deliberately mislead readers. The rise in the popularity of social media sites as news sources has been attributed as a cause of the proliferation of fake news, and there is a significant increase in fake news stories around election periods in many countries. The term itself is often misappropriated to describe legitimate, fully researched, fact-based news that is unpopular with certain people, groups and political leaders. Fake news should not be confused with ‘alternative facts’, a phrase used by United States counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, in defending White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's false statement about the attendance numbers of  Donald Trump’s (b. 1946) inauguration as President of the United States.

Flemensfirth

The entertainment of fugitives. An Old English legal term, it is thought to refer to the king’s right to exact a penalty from anyone who had succoured a banished person.

Four branches of the Mabinogi

Eleven stories of the 12th and 13th centuries said to be the earliest prose stories of British literature. Written in Middle Welsh, the single work is in four parts or ‘branches’: Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, Branwen, Daughter of Llŷr, Manawydan, son of Llŷr and Math, son of Mathonwy.

Frenemy

A friend who is also a rival or an enemy who masquerades as a friend.

F--k buddy

Someone that one meets regularly for no other reason than sexual intercourse.

Game of Thrones

A fantasy drama television series based on the storylines of George R. R. Martin’s novel series A Song of Ice and Fire. Set in the fictional Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and the continent of Essos, the series chronicles the violent dynastic struggles among the realm's noble families for the Iron Throne, while other families fight for independence from it.

Kit Harington as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones Credit: HBO
Generation Y

The generation born after that of Generation X, i.e. around the 1980s to early 1990s, and thought to be more comfortable using digital technology than earlier generations.

Grocer’s apostrophe

An apostrophe erroneously used to create a plural, as notoriously seen in grocers’ handwritten signs.

Hamartia

The flaw or defect in the character of the hero that leads to his or her downfall, originally and especially in ancient Greek tragedy, as explained in Aristotle’s Poetics. Also known as a ‘tragic flaw’, it is seen in the Back to the Future film series, in which the hero Marty McFly is unable to walk away from several situations when someone suggests he may be afraid. This leads to difficult consequences that could have been avoided were it not for his ‘hamartia’.

Hashtag

A word or phrase introduced by the character # to show or identify a specific subject on social media sites and to allow other users to find messages or photographs on that subject or theme. The word can be quoted jocularly in conversation to introduce a topic or theme. A bashtag is a hashtag used to criticise somebody or something.

Hat tip

An acknowledgement of respect, used online to acknowledge that another person or user has brought something to one’s attention. The term comes from the practice of raising one’s hat in greeting.

Hawkeye®

A computerized system that uses cameras to track the path of a ball, used to help arbitration of decisions in tennis, cricket, etc. It is named after Paul Hawkins (b. 1974), the British scientist who invented it.

Hepeat

Used of a man who appropriates a woman’s comments or ideas, usually in a business meeting or work or creative sitation, and is praised for them as if they are his own. The term was coined by a friend of astronomer Nicole Gugliucci.

Heteronormative

A term used to describe the position that heterosexuality is the normal or preferred sexual orientation.

Hygge

A Danish word used to describe the quality of comfort, conviviality and cosiness, with a feeling of contentment or well-being, and a concept widely marketed as an aspirational lifestyle choice. It is regarded as being a psychological state and a significant part of Danish cultural identity.

Iddy-umpty

Morse code. The onomatopoeiac term comes from a phrase used in India to teach morse code.

Imbolc

An ancient Gaelic festival to celebrate 1 February or the first day of spring, and one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man.

Internet of things

A computer network that records smart devices - physical objects, home appliances, vehicles, etc. - which have been embedded with electronics and software. The network can be used to control these things, monitor the relationships between them, and to collect and share data.

Ironman®

A long-distance triathlon race consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile run. It is considered to be the most difficult one-day sporting event in the world.

Kompromat

A word used in Russian politics to describe compromising material collected for use in blackmailing, discrediting, or manipulating someone. The compromising material is often sexual in nature.

A harddrive containing 'kompromat' was a key plot point in the TV drama Bodyguard Credit: World Productions/BBC
Lagom

A Swedish word meaning 'just the right amount'. Rather than suggesting abstinence or failure, lagom is an appropriate amount, or balance, of something, and is used to describe a way of living that is an alternative to consumerism. Like the Danish word HYGGE, it has been appropriated into English-speaking cultures.

Mansplaining

A word used of men to describe the act of explaining something to a woman often in a condescending or patronising manner and often when the woman knows more about the subject than the man in question. The phenomenon is described in Rebecca Solnit’s (b. 1961) essay Men Explain Things to Me, in which she tells of a man at a party who says he has heard that she is a writer. She starts to talk about her book on Eadweard Muybridge, and is cut off by the man asking her whether she has ‘heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year’. This was in fact Solnit’s own book.

Manspreading

The practice of men sitting with their legs wide open, usually on public transport, and taking up the space on adjacent seats, thereby preventing others from sitting down.

Maybot

A nickname for Theresa May (b. 1956), Conservative prime minister from 2016, coined by the writer John Crace to describe her awkward, disengaged, robotic manner.

Me too

A HASHTAG used mostly by women on social media in 2017 to bring attention to their own and others’ experiences of sexual abuse, sexual assault and sexual harassment. The phrase was originally used as a slogan for this purpose by the social activist Tarana Burke, and was adopted and used on twitter by the actress Alyssa Milano.

Milkshake Duck

A term used for an internet meme that amuses and charms on social media before users discover a flawed past or backstory. The term comes from a tweet which describes this phenomenon: twitter user @pixelatedboat tweeted in 2016: ‘The whole internet loves Milkshake Duck, a lovely duck that drinks milkshakes! *5 seconds later* We regret to inform you the duck is racist.’

Millennial

A word used to describe the generation born after that of Generation X, i.e., around the 1980s to early 2000s.

Molecular gastronomy

Too small to eat, let alone find. A type of cooking in which much is made of the appliance of scientific knowledge.

Mugwump

An Algonquian word meaning literally ‘great chief ’. In Eliot’s INDIAN BIBLE the word ‘centurion’ in Acts is rendered ‘mugwump’. It is now applied in the USA to independent members of the Republican Party, those who refuse to follow the dictates of a CAUCUS and all politicians whose party vote cannot be relied on. It is also used in the sense of ‘big shot’ or ‘boss’. In 1936 Congressman Albert J. Engel is said to have explained a mugwump as ‘a bird who sits with its mug on one side of the fence and its wump on the other’. In William Burroughs’ ‘Naked Lunch’, mugwumps are a bizarre, alien-like species, and it is thought that the 1960s folk rock band The Mugwumps took their name from that source. Members of this band went on to form The Lovin’ Spoonful and the Mamas and Papas, the latter releasing the song ‘Creeque Alley’, with the lyrics:

Mugwumps, high jumps, low slumps, big bumps

Don't you work as hard as you play

Make up, break up, everything is shake up

Guess it had to be that way

In 2017, Boris Johnson (b. 1964), Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in the UK government, controversially referred to Jeremy Corbyn (b. 1949), Leader of the Labour party and Leader of the Opposition, as a 'Mutton-headed old mugwump'. Tom Watson (b. 1967), the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, responded by saying that Johnson was a ‘caggy-handed, cheese-headed fopdoodle with a talent for slummocking about, who would do less damage to Britain’s reputation in the world if Theresa May sacked him as Foreign Secretary and replaced him with a souvenir paperweight’.

No platforming

The practice within educational establishments of not allowing a platform in debates or public events to a person or group who has known proscribed racist or fascist views. The practice has at times been extended to disinviting those regarded as having sexist, homophobic, transphobic and Islamophobic views from speaking at events.

Normcore

A deliberately nondescript, consciously unfashionable style of dressing. The word ‘gorpcore’ is a style of urban dressing that incorporates clothing that would normally be worn for outdoor sports, such a mountain climbing or skiing.

Omnishambles

A state of total confusion, especially within politics. The word, coined by writer Tony Roche,  was first used in an episode of the BBC political satire ‘The Thick of It’, broadcast in 2009. In 2012, the then Leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband (b. 1969), used the word in a speech to the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions, in criticism of  the government's 2012 budget.

Outlander

A television drama series based on the historical time Outlander series of novels by Diana Gabaldon. It is the story of a WWII nurse who travels back in time to Scotland 1743 and the Jacobite uprisings.

Caitriona Balfe in a scene from Outlander Credit: Channel 4
Owl Service, The

A young adult fantasy novel by Alan Garner (b. 1934), published in 1967. Set in modern Wales, it is the retelling of the story of BLODEUWEDD.

Parachute payment

A payment made to ease the financial disparity experienced by football teams relegated from the Premiership to the Championship in English football, to compensate for the expected fall in income in the following season.

Phubbing

The act of snubbing someone by paying attention to a mobile phone instead of speaking or paying attention to them. The word was coined in 2012 as part of a publicity campaign by the Macquarie Dictionary to find a word to describe this behaviour.

Post-truth

A term used to describe a situation or culture in which discourse and debate are based on emotion, feelings and personal belief rather than facts, logical arguments or political policy.

Psychogeography

The exploration of urban environments and the effects they have on people's feelings and behaviour. The concept has links to Situationist International, an organisation of social revolutionaires comprised of artists, intellectuals and political theorists. Since the 1990s, it has been linked the work of Iain Sinclair (b. 1943), Peter Ackroyd (b. 1949) and Will Self (b. 1961), who wrote a  regular column entitled ‘Psychogeography’ for the Independent newspaper.

Safe space

A place, originally a school, college or university, in which a person or group of people can feel safe from harassment, abuse, assault, discrimination or criticism because of their religion, beliefs, sexuality or gender identity. The term also refers to any space in which those who feel they are marginalised can speak to each other without fear of emotional or phsyical harm. The creation of safe spaces has been widely criticised as stifling freedom of speech or hindering the discussion of sensitive material in a safe, educational, critical environment.

Sausage fest

A party or gathering where everybody or almost everybody attending is male. The phrase is an allusion to the phallic shape of a sausage.

Selfie

A photograph that one takes of oneself on a mobile phone, usually using a front-facing camera. Selfies are often posted on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or shared via Snapchat, and are often taken at a flattering angle. Some apps or social media sites enable users to adapt their selfies to make themselves appear younger, thinner and more attractive. The word is a shortened form of ‘self-portrait’, and has been adapted to include such plays on the concept as ‘belfie’, a picture of one’s backside, ‘drelfie’, a picture taken while drunk,  ‘pelfie’, a picture of one’s penis or of one’s pet, ‘shelfie’, a picture of one’s bookshelf, and ‘welfie’, a picture of oneself working out. The word ‘skelfie’, a play on skeleton, is used humorously to refer to an x-ray.

Snowflake generation

A derogatory term used to characterise the young adults of the 2010s, suggesting both that they are more fragile and emotionally vulnerable than previous generations and that they believe that they are unique. A ‘broflake’ is a man holding conventional or conservative attitudes who is easily offended by unconventional or progressive attitudes.

Trans or transgender

This word is used to denote or describe someone whose gender identity does not correspond with that which they were assigned at birth.

Trumpism

A controversial or preposterous statement spoken or tweeted by Donald Trump (b. 1946), President of the United States, 2017–.

Trumponomics

The economic policies of Donald Trump (b. 1946), President of the United States, 2017–, who made promises to introduce fiscal stimulus measures by focusing on infrastructure and defense and to cut personal and corporate taxes. These policies are not always consistent or clear.

Truthiness

The belief that, regardless of facts, a statement is true because a person wishes or feels it to be true. This sense of the word was coined by the television comedian Stephen Colbert in 2005 to describe the appeal to emotion used in contemporary political discourse.

White fragility

A term coined by Robin DiAngelo to describe the discomfort and defensiveness of white people in response to systemic racial inequality and injustice and the privileges afforded to them by this state.

White privilege

A term used for the advantages held by a person identifying as white in a society in which there are systemic racial inequalities and injustices.

Woke

Coming from ‘to stay woke’, and thought to have been first used in this context by the soul singer Erykah Badu (b. 1971), the word is used to describe a person who has an awareness of social and racial justice.

Xennial

A word used to describe the generation born between that of Generation X and Generation Y,  i.e. around the late 70s to early 80s.

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (20th Edition) is published by Hodder & Staughton at £45 on November 1. To order your copy call 0844 871 1514 or visit the online Telegraph Bookshop