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BBC Wordhunt

Your language needs you!

Did you eat a balti before 1984 or have a mullet before 1994? And do you know how they got their names?

In conjunction with the major BBC2 series Balderdash and Piffle, the OED invites you to hunt for words and help rewrite 'the greatest book in the English language'.

250 years after Dr Johnson wrote his celebrated dictionary with the aid of just six helpers, the BBC and the Oxford English Dictionary have teamed up to appeal to the nation to help solve some of the most intriguing recent word mysteries in the language.

The OED seeks to find the earliest verifiable usage of every single word in the English language—currently 600,000 in the OED and counting—and of every separate meaning of every word. Quite a task! The fifty words on the OED's BBC Wordhunt appeal list all have a date next to them - corresponding to the earliest evidence the dictionary currently has for that word or phrase. Can you trump that? If so the BBC wants to hear from you.

Sometimes the OED can't tell how a word was invented - so if you can fill us in on that, so much the better. We've indicated next to these words that they are origin uncertain. If you've got a convincing theory, we'd like to hear from you. If you can prove you're right, you might help in rewriting the dictionary.

To help you start looking, click on the word to see our hunch about where the word might come from, and for part of the OED's own entry for that word.

To join the word hunt, you might find an earlier appearance of the word in a book or a magazine, in a movie script, a fanzine, or even in unpublished papers or letter or a post-marked postcard. It might appear first online or in a sound recording. The most important thing is that it can be dated. Send your evidence to the BBC (email and it might feature in the big series coming to BBC2 next year.

No dictionary is ever finished, and so the appeal is also for new words that aren't yet in the OED, but should be. What do you think is the biggest word on your street at the moment? Again, send your answers and evidence to the BBC: email or click here for postal address.

BBC Wordhunt appeal list

* means origin unknown or origin uncertain