6 February 2014

Making historical data relevant the OED way

Does your company have reams of data dating back decades? There might be someone interested in it today, if you frame it right. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has hit on a wonderful way of reminding users about a well-established brand, and of adding value to archived data by reframing it in a way that makes it current and relevant.

The company combed its archives to find out what words were added to the dictionary from the 1900s to 2004, and now offers a "birthday word generator" which tells you which words were added to the dictionary the year you were born, complete with explanations, a way to explore the first known usage of the word, and a button to share the discovery on Twitter.

While the company could have easily updated the words all the way to 2013, it is interesting to note that the archive stops at 2004, maximising brand exposure as children who are too young are not likely to appreciate birthday words.

Some of those words are still current. Those born in 1940, for example, are as old as the OED birthday word 'acronym', meaning 'a group of initial letters used as an abbreviation for a name or expression, each letter or part being pronounced separately; an initialism (such as ATM, TLS)'.

In 1950, the birthday word is 'big bang', referring to 'the rapid expansion of the universe from the extremely dense and hot initial state which marked its origin (estimated to have been 13.7 billion years ago)', at least in cosmological theory.

'Chocoholic' entered the dictionary only in 1961, describing 'a habitual and prolific eater of chocolate; especially a person who is very fond of chocolate'.

And, LOL, 1970 is when 'laugh-out-loud' was noted. The OED says the adjective means 'likely to cause one to laugh out loud; hilarious,' as the acronym still does today.

The birthday word generator can be explored here.