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Monthly Archives: February 2018

The BRIT Awards are back!!

Justin Timberlake, Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, Stormzy, Dua Lipa, and more took the stage Wednesday evening — and boy did they slay!

Watch all of their performances and other show highlights (below)!

Justin Timberlake:

Rag N Bone Man:

Dua Lipa:

Ed Sheeran:

Foo Fighters:

Liam Gallagher:

Kendrick Lamar:

Rita Ora & Liam Payne


Sam Smith:

[Image via YouTube.]

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After a trial run in Denver, the stage adaptation of the animated smash hits New York and a passionate fanbase is already out in force and in costume

The cold never bothered them anyway.

On a chilly Thursday evening, 200 people jammed the sidewalks outside the St James Theater in New York, where the musical Frozen, the latest venture from Disney Theatrical Productions, had staged its first Broadway preview.

Frozen remains the highest-grossing animated movie of all time, making $1.2bn worldwide since its release in 2013. Very loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen story The Snow Queen, its set in the fictional land of Arandelle and describes Princess Annas quest to find and redeem her older sister Elsa, a blond icemaker with a thing for statement gloves.

To adapt the film for Broadway, the original creative team composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez and writer Jennifer Lee reunited to shift scenes, lose a snow monster and add 12 new songs. One new number, Elsas ballad Monster, would be released that same night online, but several people came out humming another new tune, Hygge.

As the wind lashed 44th Street, attendees stood comparing merchandise fluffy snowmen, fur-trimmed sweatshirts and swallowing the last of pricy cerulean cocktails like the Heart of Arendelle. Not too many adult women had come in costume, but several had assembled blue and white outfits. One man proudly displayed his blue socks. Many tiny Elsas stood near the stage door, hoping for autographs, and a few Annas, too, even though it was hours past bedtime.

It was really, really good, one of the Annas, 10-year-old Molly Sarfert said. There were some new songs, but they were really on it. She even claimed to like the hidden folk, one of the musicals innovations replacing the films trolls.

You said they were creepy, her mother Geri, 46, countered.

Development of the $25 to $30m musical, now directed by Michael Grandage and designed by Christopher Oram, was initially fraught, with the production cycling through two directors, two designers, three choreographers and cast changes, too. Reports from the pre-Broadway tryout in Denver were on the cheerful side of tepid.

The cast of Frozen at the end of the first night on Broadway. Photograph: Disney Theatrical Productions

Frozen, which stars Broadway regulars Caissie Levy and Patti Murin as inclement princesses, could flop, like Tarzan, but it could also go on to crush the Broadway box office, like The Lion King, which has earned nearly $8bn, or Aladdin, which continues to post strong profits. It will have some competition this spring from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which begins previews next month and should also appeal to family ticket-buyers.

But for several in the crowd, there was no competition at all. Dustin Overfield, 34, stood outside holding a huge bag of souvenirs and waiting for his wife. Theyd flown out from Detroit to see the show. Its her Valentines Day present, he said. Hes already pre-ordered the cast album and he proudly showed off a piece of sheet music signed by the composers.

Away from the stage door, other groups clustered. Adam Kaufman, 43, who had come with his fiancee and some friends, described the show as amazing, totally magical. His friends, who had bought sweatshirts, thought so too. A few of them were surprised by what Kaufman called a number that was a little risqu.

There was more nudity than expected from Disney, said his friend Jenn Mante, 36.

But everyone agreed that the reindeer, Sven, was an improvement on the movie, and so was the snowman, Olaf.

Half an hour later, the crowd still hadnt dissipated. Some people are worth melting for, Olaf says. And some shows are worth shivering for.

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Image copyright PA
Image caption Richard Barton-Wood and harpist Danielle Perrett had denied a string of charges

A renowned harpist and her former partner have been jailed for sexually abusing a schoolboy in the 1980s.

Danielle Perrett – who has performed for The Queen – took the boy’s virginity and performed sex acts on him, Ipswich Crown Court heard.

Richard Barton-Wood sexually assaulted the boy on sailing and camping trips.

Perrett, 59, from Alpheton, Suffolk, and Barton-Wood, 68, from Wymondham, Norfolk were jailed for four years and nine months after being found guilty.

Perrett was convicted of six counts of indecent assault while Barton-Wood was found guilty of seven counts of indecent assault and one count of attempted indecent assault.

‘Systematic abuse’

Both denied the charges but sentencing them, Judge Rupert Overbury said they had been regarded as “pillars” of the community.

“One of you a teacher and dedicated employee of the museums service who gave time to his community, the other a world-famous harpist with a reputation for kindness and integrity,” the judge said.

Judge Overbury added both had a “darker side” and were involved in “systematic abuse of a teenage boy”.

Who is Danielle Perrett?

Image copyright Suffolk Police
Image caption Danielle Perrett was in her 20s at the time of the assaults, according to police
  • According to her website, Perrett has performed across the globe in North America, South East Asia, and the Middle East
  • Her recordings have featured on The Today Programme and Women’s Hour
  • She taught at the London College of Music and for 25 years taught musicianship and harp at the Royal College of Music junior department
  • She won “several” awards from the Arts Council of Great Britain

During a four-week trial, the court heard that Barton-Wood was a substitute teacher at the school the boy, now an adult, attended in his early teens.

The jury was told that Perrett stripped naked and got into bed with the boy, where she had sex with him, and Barton-Wood followed suit by sexually assaulting him.

The pair had claimed the allegations were untrue and the accuser was trying to blackmail them.

Det Insp Claire Burgess, from Suffolk Police, said: “Together they destroyed the victim’s teenage years and left him carrying the burden of the abuse he suffered for the next 30 years.

“I hope the sentences handed down to these two predatory individuals today will now begin to enable him to move forward with his life.”

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Looks like one way or another, Chris Soules is going to have to face down some tough time in court.

Nearly a year ago now, the former Bachelor star and Dancing With The Stars alum was involved in a car accident in rural Iowa which left 66-year-old tractor driver Kenneth Mosher dead at the scene.

Soules left the scene of the accident early, and was later arrested for doing so.

Rank: The All-Time Worst Bachelors & Bachelorettes!

After entering a not guilty plea back in May to the charges of leaving the scene of an accident — which is a felony — Soules’ legal team has been filing motions to delay and dismiss various charges and other court hearings around the case.

Well, just a couple weeks ago, Soules again filed a motion to dismiss the felony charge against him, and now, we can report that his motion has been denied.

The Iowa Supreme Court denied Soules’ appeal to remove the felony charge on Friday afternoon, according to multiple media reports.

Soules’ attorneys had stated in court documents that Soules did lots at the scene before he fled (below):

“Because Mr. Soules indisputably stopped his vehicle, returned to the injured driver, contacted law enforcement, provided aid to the injured driver, arranged for medical treatment for the injured driver, remained until emergency personnel responded to the injured party, and provided identification data, the State’s charge must be dismissed.”

And yet there’s apparently enough evidence here that the Iowa Supreme Court determined charges should NOT be dropped.


We’ll see what happens next for Soules, but there’s a good chance now that he’ll have to face the music in court about this very serious felony charge.


[Image via Media Punch.]

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Image copyright BBC/Reuters
Image caption Clockwise from top left: Kaiser Chiefs, Lauren Laverne, Postman Pat, Lubaina Himid

The Kaiser Chiefs, Postman Pat and Turner Prize-winning artist Lubaina Himid are all on the line-up for the Great Exhibition of the North, which will take place this summer.

The 11-week festival will celebrate “great art, culture, design and innovation from the north of England”.

Staged in Newcastle and Gateshead, it will be paid for with £5m from the government’s Northern Powerhouse fund.

After the opening ceremony on 22 June, the event will run until 9 September.

Image copyright Eyelevel
Image caption The “water sculpture” on the Tyne will be a highlight of the exhibition

It will begin with performances by the Kaiser Chiefs and poet Lemn Sissay, and will feature what’s said to be the UK’s largest water sculpture – an 80m-long fountain – on the River Tyne.

On the opening weekend, members of the public will be invited to join in with wandering groups of dancers, while three choirs will make their way through the towns and cities.

Other highlights of the festival will include Robert Stephenson’s Rocket, on loan from the Science Museum, with a virtual reality experience recreating the early steam age.

John Lennon‘s last piano and the original Postman Pat models will be part of an exhibition of northern cultural creations at the Great North Museum.

Image copyright Steve Mayes
Image caption The Beatles’ Abbey Road LP cover has been recreated in Lego by Steve Mayes

Preston-based Lubaina Himid, who won the Turner Prize in 2017, will stage an exhibition inspired by the colourful east African kanga fabric at the Baltic gallery.

The same gallery will host works by Ryan Gander, who will create sculptures inspired by northern inventions, from Joseph Swan’s incandescent light bulb to George Stephenson’s Geordie safety lamp.

BBC 6 Music DJ Lauren Laverne will curate a series of concerts featuring northern musicians at the nearby Sage Gateshead.

Details of the 80-day arts and cultural festival were announced on Tuesday.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport also released a video, which includes some of the best known faces from the north east. Alan Shearer called it “a great year for the North of England”.

Visitors will be invited to take in the attractions along three special walking routes.

The innovation trail:

  • The Beatles, a Rolls Royce and The Great North Run will be among 40 “northern innovations” to be built in Lego by Steve Mayes at The Mining Institute
  • Six artists will be paired with six scientists for The Hexagon Experiment to shine a light on the contributions of women in science and the arts
  • The histories of the light bulb and robotics will be on show at the Lit & Phil and Life Science Centre respectively
  • A series of exhibitions and performances (and mass quilt-making) will explore learning disability and parenthood

The arts trail:

  • Opera North will take people on a musical journey along the banks of the River Tyne using songs and stories in Aeons
  • A poem displayed outside the Theatre Royal will refresh every minute, using real-time data about weather, traffic and travel
  • Artist Glenn Brown, who manipulates masterpieces by the likes of Fragonard and Dali, will have an exhibition at the Laing Gallery

The design trail:

  • A street art trail in the Ouseburn Valley will be inspired by the work of children’s writer David Almond
  • Almond will also be celebrated in an exhibition at Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books
  • You can follow the design process of a product – from idea to testing to brand identity – and come up with your own creation, ending at the Northern Design Centre

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Image copyright Jordan Hughes
Image caption Superorganism: “We skipped the most intimidating part of being in a band”

If you believe everything you see on TV, you’d assume that bands who live together are having a blast.

Whether it’s The Monkees teaching Frankenstein’s monster to dance or S Club 7 emancipating a pet alligator; the combination of domesticity and pop stardom seems like one big adventure.

The reality is much more mundane.

“Our house is the worst thing,” groans Harry Young, one eighth of indie pop collective Superorganism, who share a house in East London.

“For sure,” adds singer Orono Noguchi in a heartbeat. “It’s so small.”

“The oven’s been broken for six weeks now, in the middle of winter,” says Young. “It’s been passed around like a hot potato. Everyone is avoiding it.”

Broken appliances aside, Superorganism’s house is a hive of musical activity that’s produced some of the most humorous, catchy and Technicolor music of the last 12 months.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionSuperorganism perform Something For Your MIND for BBC Music Introducing.

The musicians write in their rooms, emailing each other song fragments for improvements and revisions before convening in the kitchen to hear the final result.

“Every room has got something going on at all times,” says Harry. “It’s kind of a non-stop pop production house.”

But why not just set up their instruments and play together?

“I like doing it over text and the internet because you get to, like, think about it,” says Orono who, at the age of 17, is younger and more softly-spoken than her 20 and 30-something bandmates.

“The internet is just a fundamental of the band: Most of us know each other through the internet, we came together over the internet, and so we work over the internet.”

The band developed their unusual working method on their first single, Something For Your MIND – a chopped-up collage of slide guitar, nature sounds, wibbly synths and Orono’s deadpan vocals.

“Me and some of the guys in the band had tried in vain to record a garage rock album,” recalls Harry, “and by the end of that process, we came home and we were just like, ‘We don’t want to play loud guitars and drums in a room any more’.

“So we went back to the drawing board and said, ‘What can we do that’ll be more fresh and fun?’ And all the people who lived in our house became part of the band.”

Image copyright Domino Records
Image caption Orono (front, centre) and Harry (left, on keyboards) formed a friendship in 2015, and swapped recipes on Facebook before forming Superorganism

They “sketched out a few ideas” and, on a whim, emailed an early version of Something For Your MIND to Orono, one of Harry’s Facebook friends who was still at school in the US.

“Within an hour of her getting the track, she sent it back and the lyrics and the vocal are what you hear,” says Harry.

“It felt like everything had just fallen into place straight away. Orono fully got the vibe of what we were trying to achieve.”

To the band’s surprise, the single immediately created a buzz.

Within days of being uploaded to Soundcloud last February, it landed in Spotify’s influential New Music Friday playlist; and was featured by Frank Ocean and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig on their radio shows.

“When Ezra Koenig played the song, I was like, ‘Woah, this is a big moment,'” recalls Orono.

“And then we started getting this crazy response from The Fader and all these big media outlets. I was like, ‘Oh Damn. This is for real!'”

Mystery and rumours

But at this point, Superorganism had never been in the same room as each other.

Orono was “trying to graduate” high school; while South Korean backing singer Soul lived in Sydney, and co-vocalists Ruby and Bea were in New Zealand.

The fact they had no website or social media presence gave the band an air of mystery; which only increased after Something For Your MIND was yanked off the internet due to an unlicensed sample.

“People were speculating, ‘Is this the project of a famous person going incognito?'” says Harry.

“They said we were actually The Avalanches or Damon Albarn – which is so flattering because I grew up listening to those artists.

“It’s like, ‘You think we’re that good? We feel like we’re hacks!'”

Image copyright Superorganism
Image caption Orono arrived in London last August, and the band took this picture to celebrate

The success of Something For Your MIND attracted several record labels, including British indie outfit Domino – who signed the band on the strength of “five or six” demos.

Pretty soon, Orono quit school and packed her bags for London – where she took over the living room of the band’s increasingly-cramped house.

“One of the first things we did after that was to put together a collaborative playlist” says Harry.

Called “Sweet Stuff,” it ran to more than 300 songs, from Lil Yachty to Pavement via Katy Perry and Prince, and acted as a mood board for the band’s debut album.

“We tried to absorb as much of each other’s influences as we could,” says Harry, “but our brains lean towards simple, singable melodies and catchy choruses”.

“We keep the song writing quite simple and then, with the production, we can shade it and colour it and give it the depth that lends itself to repeat listening.”

Certainly, you’re unlikely to hear a more inventive record this year. The band’s debut album is a squishy mishmash of weird samples (birdsong, cash registers, apples being crunched) bound together by Orono’s nonchalant, earwormy vocals.

Lyrically, she depicts the angst and ennui of teenage life through the distancing filter of technology: “There’s something so affecting / In the reflections / On my screen”.

Her words are abstract but evocative – which is impressive, given that Orono had never attempted a lyric before joining Superorganism (although she had a neat line in Katy Perry fan fiction).

“I just always liked English class, I guess,” she says. “I don’t have a long attention span, so I haven’t really been reading books lately – but I like analysing lyrics and I like writing.”

The band have had to get used to the limelight pretty quickly. The success of Something For Your MIND and the subsequent singles Nobody Cares and It’s All Good earned them a place on the BBC’s Sound of 2018, while Rolling Stone magazine called them one of the “10 artists you need to know“.

Image copyright Jordan Hughes
Image caption The band design all their own artwork and videos

They’ve done it all on their own terms – with band member Robert Strange creating all their videos and tour backdrops; while Orono designs all the artwork.

The cover of Something For Your MIND even features a hand-drawn map of Tokyo Zoo – where the singer took Harry for a day out after meeting his previous group, The Eversons, at a gig three years ago.

So far, it’s worked like a charm.

“I think we skipped the most intimidating part of being in a band – where you play to 10 or 20 people in an empty room,” says Harry.

“Our first gig was in Hamburg to 500 people. And Orono just fell straight into it”

Turning to his bandmate, he suddenly realises how traumatic that might have been.

“Did you find that intimidating?” he asks.

“Mmmm,” ponders the teenager. “The very, very first song we played, I was quite nervous… but I got into it quite quickly.

“But obviously I’ve had years of training – watching The Wiggles and dancing along.”

Image copyright Instagram / @Sprorgnsm
Image caption The band have had a crash course in life on the road

Superorganism’s debut album, also called Superorganism, is released on Friday, 2 March.

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Start spreading the news… Britney Spears is covering Frank Sinatra!

Well, kinda.

The 36-year-old singer posted a Snapchat-filtered video on Monday of her singing the classic tune New York, New York… in the style of a chipmunk! Perhaps nodding to those Mickey Mouse Club days?? LOLz.

Related: Kevin Federline Lawyers Up For More Child Support From Britney

Watch (below) as she posted it to her Instagram!!

Who doesn’t love Sinatra??A post shared by Britney Spears (@britneyspears) on Feb 26, 2018 at 6:01pm PST

We found this potentially-unpitched version that we think is worth a listen (below):

Issa hit.

[Image via Instagram.]

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A diss from Kylie Jenner, an annoying redesign, competition from Facebook and … why does Snapchat keep getting it wrong?

More than 1.2m Snapchat users signed a petition urging the company to reverse its annoying redesign but it was a single tweet from Kylie Jenner that may havecaused real damage.

After the celebrity tweeted sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me to her 24m followers, shares of the apps parent company Snap plummeted 6% a $1.3bn drop in market value that launched a fresh cycle of embarrassing headlines.

Kylie Jenner (@KylieJenner)

sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me… ugh this is so sad.

February 21, 2018

But some analysts and Snapchatters said this was more than just a one-day PR snafu. Facing backlash from brands and influencers and ongoing competition from Facebook and newer apps like, another platform hugely popular among children, Snapchat is suffering from a larger existential crisis, and its unclear how it will recover.

Were watching a company explode into bits, said Eric Schiffer, CEO of private equity firm Patriarch Organization, arguing that the redesign scandal was the greatest app debacle he had ever seen in Silicon Valley: This is a kiss of death to a brand like Snapchat with their base that has stuck with them.

The redesign, launched earlier this month, featured substantial interface changes, including distinguishing content between friends and publishers and reorganizing Snapchat Stories, which are videos and photos that disappear after 24 hours. While major changes to social media platforms often spark brief waves of criticism, the Snapchat controversy could have longer-term impacts, and is just the latest in a series of struggles.

A lot of my friends were saying they were going to delete it, says one 18-year-old. Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

The whole thing is an absolute mess, said Scott Levy, CEO of social media agency Fuel Online, noting that his firm generally advises clients not to spend resources on Snapchat. People are not using it anymore. On top of that, youre getting public celebrity backlash.

Snap has recently suffered steep losses as Instagram, owned by Facebook, has attracted hundreds of millions of users to its Stories feature, which functions like Snapchat.

A lot of my friends were saying they were going to delete it, said Claire Pachter, an 18-year-old California high school student who has been using Snapchat for about six years and hated the redesign. Its so ugly and its really hard to understand.

Despite the viral criticisms, Snapchat said this week the new design was here to stay.

Thats a risky strategy that could cause serious problems if more users leave Snapchat and the stock suffers further, said Michael Pachter, a Wedbush Securities analyst and Claires father: They clearly didnt do their homework in testing with users and anticipating reaction.

Pressure increased Thursday when makeup brand Maybelline asked its followers if it should quit Snapchat given that its views have dropped dramatically.

A Snapchat spokesman said the goal of the redesign was to make the app more personal for everyone, adding in an email, This new foundation is just the beginning and we will always be grateful for any feedback from our community as we roll out new products.

Snap lost $1.3bn drop in market value after Kylie Jenner tweeted she was no longer using the app. Photograph: Aurore Marechal/PA

While Instagram has continued to dominate, other lesser-known apps have also grown in popularity, posing further threats to Snapchat. is a lip-synching app that launched as a gimmick and has grown into a massive video-sharing platform that has attracted millions of teens, turning some of them into stars. It combines features of Instagram, Snapchat and Vine and has expanded at the same time Snapchats growth slowed following the launch of Instagram Stories.

Although has a different and younger audience than Snapchat, the music video app is heading in a positive direction, said Schiffer: Its only going upwards. Snapchat, he said, is heading toward irrelevancy.

Bilal Khan, a Pakistani singer and actor, said he used Snapchat to connect with fans and has seen a drop in views since the redesign. He has no plans, however, to leave the app: I guess I just have to accept it and work with it.

Not all Snapchatters are complaining. Cyrene Quiamco, a popular Snapchat influencer who goes by CyreneQ, said she thought people were overreacting and argued that Snapchat has built a unique community that other apps cant replace.

It just takes time to get used to Im not too worried, said Quiamco, 28, who visited Snap headquarters in Los Angeles this week. Snapchat and its audience would persist, she said: I dont think its going away anytime soon.

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The long read: For centuries, lexicographers have attempted to capture the entire English language. Technology might soon turn this dream into reality but will it spell the end for dictionaries?

In February 2009, a Twitter user called @popelizbet issued an apparently historic challenge to someone called Colin: she asked if he could mansplain a concept to her. History has not recorded if he did, indeed, proceed to mansplain. But the lexicographer Bernadette Paton, who excavated this exchange last summer, believed it was the first time anyone had used the word in recorded form. Its been deleted since, but we caught it, Paton told me, with quiet satisfaction.

In her office at Oxford University Press, Paton was drafting a brand new entry for the Oxford English Dictionary. Also in her in-tray when I visited were the millennial-tinged usage of snowflake, which she had hunted down to a Christian text from 1983 (You are a snowflake. There are no two of you alike), and new shadings of the compound self-made woman. Around 30,000 such items are on the OED master list; another 7,000 more pile up annually. Everyone thinks were very slow, but its actually rather fast, Paton said. Though admittedly a colleague did spend a year revising go.

Spending 12 months tracing the history of a two-letter word seems dangerously close to folly. But the purpose of a historical dictionary such as the OED is to give such questions the solemnity they deserve. An Oxford lexicographer might need to snoop on Twitter spats from a decade ago; or they might have to piece together a painstaking biography of one of the oldest verbs in the language (the revised entry for go traces 537 separate senses over 1,000 years). Well, we have to get things right, the dictionarys current chief editor, Michael Proffitt, told me.

At one level, few things are simpler than a dictionary: a list of the words people use or have used, with an explanation of what those words mean, or have meant. At the level that matters, though the level that lexicographers fret and obsess about few things could be more complex. Who used those words, where and when? How do you know? Which words do you include, and on what basis? How do you tease apart this sense from that? And what is English anyway?

In the case of a dictionary such as the OED which claims to provide a definitive record of every single word in the language from 1000AD to the present day the question is even larger: can a living language be comprehensively mapped, surveyed and described? Speaking to lexicographers makes one wary of using the word literally, but a definitive dictionary is, literally, impossible. No sooner have you reached the summit of the mountain than it has expanded another hundred feet. Then you realise its not even one mountain, but an interlocking series of ranges marching across the Earth. (In the age of global English, the metaphor seems apt.)

Even so, the quest to capture the meaning of everything as the writer Simon Winchester described it in his book on the history of the OED has absorbed generations of lexicographers, from the Victorian worthies who set up a Committee to collect unregistered words in English to the OEDs first proper editor, the indefatigable James Murray, who spent 36 years shepherding the first edition towards publication (before it killed him). The dream of the perfect dictionary goes back to the Enlightenment notion that by classifying and regulating language one could just perhaps distil the essence of human thought. In 1747, in his Plan for the English dictionary that he was about to commence, Samuel Johnson declared he would create nothing less than a dictionary by which the pronunciation of our language may be fixed, and its attainment facilitated; by which its purity may be preserved, its use ascertained, and its duration lengthened. English would not be merely listed in alphabetical order; it would be saved for eternity.

Ninety years after the first edition appeared, the OED a distant, far bulkier descendant of Johnsons Dictionary is currently embarked on a third edition, a goliath project that involves overhauling every entry (many of which have not been touched since the late-Victorian era) and adding at least some of those 30,000 missing words, as well as making the dictionary into a fully digital resource. This was originally meant to be completed in 2000, then 2005, then 2010. Since then, OUP has quietly dropped mentions of a date. How far had they got, I asked Proffitt. About 48%, he replied.

The dictionary retains a quiet pride in the lexical lengths to which it will indeed, must go. Some time in the late 1980s, Proffitts predecessor as chief editor, John Simpson, asked the poet Benjamin Zephaniah about the origins of the noun skanking. Zephaniah decided that the only way to explain was to come to OED headquarters and do a private, one-on-one performance. Skanking duly went in, defined as a style of West Indian dancing to reggae music, in which the body bends forward at the waist, and the knees are raised and the hands claw the air in time to the beat.

The tale touches something profound: in capturing a word, a sliver of lived experience can be observed and defined. If only you were able to catch all the words, perhaps you could define existence.

The first English dictionary-makers had no fantasies about capturing an entire culture. In contrast to languages such as Chinese and ancient Greek, where systematic, dictionary-like works have existed for millennia, the earliest English lexicons didnt begin to be assembled until the 16th century. They were piecemeal affairs, as befitted the languages mongrel inheritance a jumbled stew of old Anglo-Germanic, Norse, Latin and Greek, and Norman French.

The language was perplexing enough, but in the mid-1500s it was getting ever more confusing, as political upheavals and colonial trade brought fresh waves of immigration, and with it a babel of recently Englished vocabulary: words such as alcohol (Arabic via Latin, c1543) and abandonment (French, c1593). Scientific and medical developments added to the chaos. In 1582, the schoolmaster Richard Mulcaster issued a frantic plea for someone to gather all the wordes which we use in our English tung into one dictionarie. Such a book would stabilise spelling, a source of violent disagreement. Also, there would finally be rules for proper use.

In 1604, a clergyman named Robert Cawdrey attempted a stopgap solution: a slender book entitled A Table Alphabeticall. Aimed at Ladies, gentlewomen and other unskillful persons, it listed approximately 2,500 hard usuall words, less than 5% of the lexis in use at the time. Definitions were vague diet is described as manner of foode and there were no illustrative quotations, still less any attempt at etymology. A Table Alphabeticall was so far from being completist that there werent even entries for the letter W.

Robert Cawdreys 1604 A Table Alphabeticall. Photograph:

Lexicographers kept trying to do better and mostly kept failing. A new word book edited by John Bullokar appeared in 1616 (5,000 words); another by Henry Cockeram in 1623 (8,000 words and the first to call itself a dictionary); yet another by Thomas Blount in 1656 (11,000 words). But no one could seem to capture all the wordes in English, still less agree on what those words meant. The language was expanding more rapidly than ever. Where would you even start?

Comprehensive dictionaries had already been produced in French, Italian and Spanish; Britains failure to get its house in order was becoming an international embarrassment. In 1664, the Royal Society formed a 22-person committee for improving the English language, only to disband after a few meetings. In 1712, Jonathan Swift published a pamphlet on the subject, pouring scorn on sloppy usage and insisting that some Method should be thought on for ascertaining and fixing our Language for ever arguing that English should not merely be exhaustively surveyed, but that its users should be forced to obey some rules. This task defeated everyone, too. It wasnt until 1746, when a consortium of publishers managed to convince Samuel Johnson to take on this great and arduous post, that it seemed remotely likely to be completed.

Johnsons Dictionary, eventually finished in 1755, was a heroic achievement. He corralled 43,500-odd words perhaps 80% of the language in use at the time. But in some eyes, not least the editors, the book was also a heroic failure. In contrast to the jaunty Enlightenment optimism of his 1747 Plan, with its talk of fixing and preservation, the preface to the published Dictionary is a work of chastened realism. Johnson explains that the idea of taming a fast-evolving creature such as the English language is not only impossible, but risible:

We laugh at the elixir that promises to prolong life to a thousand years; and with equal justice may the lexicographer be derided, who being able to produce no example of a nation that has preserved their words and phrases from mutability, shall imagine that his dictionary can embalm his language, and secure it from corruption and decay.

Much as lexicographers might fantasise about capturing and fixing meaning as Johnson had once fantasised a living language will always outrun them.

Still, the dream lingered. What if one could get to 100% lassoing the whole of English, from the beginning of written time to the present day? Numerous revisions or rivals to Johnson were proposed, though few were actually created. After a Connecticut schoolteacher named Noah Webster published his American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828 (70,000 entries), British pride was once again at stake.

In November 1857, the members of the London Philological Society convened to hear a paper by Richard Chenevix Trench, the dean of Westminster, entitled On Some Deficiencies in our English Dictionaries. It was a bombshell: Trench argued that British word banks were so unreliable that the slate needed to be wiped clean. In their place, he outlined a true idea of a Dictionary. This Platonic resource should be compiled on scholarly historical lines, mining deep into the caverns of the language for ancient etymology. It should describe rather than prescribe, casting an impartial eye on everything from Anglo-Saxon monosyllables to the latest technical jargon (though Trench drew the line at regional dialect). Most of all, it should be comprehensive, honouring what Trench called glancing jealously at Germany, where the brothers Grimm had recently started work on a Deutsches Wrterbuch our native tongue.

The quest to capture the language in its entirety may have been centuries old, but, like a great railway line or bridge, this new dictionary would be thoroughly Victorian: scientific, audacious, epic and hugely expensive. Building it was a patriotic duty, Trench insisted: A dictionary is a historical monument, the history of a nation.

For the first two decades, the New English Dictionary, as it was called, looked as if it would go the way of so many previous projects. The first editor died a year in, leaving chaos in his wake. The second had more energy for young women, socialism, folksong and cycling. Only after it was taken over by Oxford University Press, who in 1879 were persuaded to appoint a little-known Scottish schoolteacher and philologist called James Murray as chief editor, did things begin to move.

James Murray and his staff compiling the first edition of the New English Dictionary, published in 1928. Photograph: Alamy

Murrays masterstroke was to put out an appeal in newspapers and library books for volunteer readers to search for quotations, which would illustrate the ways words changed over time a corpus of data that would make the dictionary as accurate as possible. More than 2,000 enthusiasts from across the world and all walks of life assembled some 5m quotations to feed Murrays team of lexicographers as they churned through the alphabet, defining words as they went. Even when it became evident that it would all take far, far longer than scheduled after five years they were still halfway through the letter A Murray kept the dictionary going. It would have been impossible without him, says the lexicographer and OED historian Peter Gilliver.

The first part was published in 1884, A to Ant, and instalments emerged at regular intervals for the next 40-odd years. Although Murray died in 1915 somewhere between Turndun and Tzirid the machine churned on. In 1928, the finished dictionary was eventually published: some 414,800 headwords and phrases in 10 volumes, each with a definition, etymology and 1.8m quotations tracking usage over time.

It was one of the largest books ever made, in any language: had you laid the metal type used end to end, it would have stretched from London to Manchester. Sixty years late it may have been, but the publisher made the most of the achievement, trumpeting that the Oxford Dictionary is the supreme authority, and without a rival.

Yet if you knew where to look, its flaws were only too obvious. By the time it was published in 1928, this Victorian leviathan was already hopelessly out of date. The A-C entries were compiled nearly 50 years earlier; others relied on scholarship that had long been surpassed, especially in technology and science. In-house, it was admitted that the second half of the alphabet (M-Z) was stronger than the first (A-L); the letter E was regarded as especially weak. Among other eccentricities, Murray had taken against marzipan, preferring to spell it marchpane, and decreed that the adjective African should not be included, on the basis that it was not really a word. American, however, was, for reasons that reveal much about the dictionarys lofty Anglocentric worldview.

The only solution was to patch it up. The first Supplement to the OED came out in 1933, compiling new words that editors had noted in the interim, as well as original omissions. Supplements to that Supplement were begun in 1957, eventually appearing in four instalments between 1972 and 1986 some 69,300 extra items in all. Yet it was a losing battle, or a specialised form of Zenos paradox: the closer that OED lexicographers got to the finish line, the more distant that finish line seemed to be.

At the same time, the ground beneath their feet was beginning to give way. By the late 1960s, a computer-led approach known as corpus linguistics was forcing lexicographers to re-examine their deepest assumptions about the way language operates. Instead of making dictionaries the old-fashioned way working from pre-existing lists of words/definitions, and searching for evidence that a word means what you think it does corpus linguistics turns the process on its head: you use digital technology to hoover up language as real people write and speak it, and make dictionaries from that. The first modern corpus, the Brown Corpus of Standard American English, was compiled in 1964 and included 1m words, sampled from 500 texts including romance novels, religious tracts and books of popular lore contemporary, everyday sources that dictionary-makers had barely consulted, and which it had never been possible to examine en masse. The general-language corpora that provide raw material for todays dictionaries contain tens of billions of words, a database beyond the wildest imaginings of lexicographers even a generation ago.

There are no limits to the corpora that can be constructed: at a corpus linguistics conference in Birmingham last year, I watched researchers eavesdrop on college-age Twitter users (emojis have long since made laughter forms such as LOL and ROFL redundant, apparently) and comb through English judges sentencing remarks for evidence of gender bias (all too present).

For lexicographers, whats really thrilling about corpus linguistics is the way it lets you spy on language in the wild. Collating the phrases in which a word occurs enables you to unravel different shades of meaning. Observing how a word is misused hints that its centre of gravity might be shifting. Comparing representative corpora lets you see, for example, how often Trump supporters deploy a noun such as liberty, and how differently the word is used in the Black Lives Matter movement. Its completely changed what we do, the lexicographer Michael Rundell told me. Its very bottom-up. You have to rethink almost everything.

But while other dictionary publishers leapt on corpus linguistics, OED editors stuck to what they knew, resisting computerisation and relying on quotation slips and researchers in university libraries. In the 1970s and 80s there was little thought of overhauling this grandest of historical dictionaries, let alone keeping it up to date: it was as much as anyone could do to plug the original holes. When the OEDs second edition was published in March 1989 20 volumes, containing 291,500 entries and 2.4m quotations there were complaints that this wasnt really a new edition at all, just a nicely typeset amalgam of the old ones. The entry for computer defined it as a calculating-machine; esp an automatic electronic device for performing mathematical or logical operations. It was illustrated by a quotation from a 1897 journal.

By astonishing coincidence, another earthquake, far bigger, struck the very same month that OED2 appeared in print: a proposal by an English computer scientist named Tim Berners-Lee for a large hypertext database with typed links. The world wide web, as it came to be called (OED dates the phrase to 1990), offered a shining path to the lexicographical future. Databases could be shared, and connected to one another; whole libraries of books could be scanned and their contents made searchable. The sum of human text was starting to become available to anyone with a computer and a modem.

The possibilities were dizzying. In a 1989 article in the New Yorker, an OUP executive said, with a shiver of excitement, that if the dictionary could incorporate corpus linguistics resources properly, something special could be achieved: a Platonic concept the ideal database. It was the same ideal laid out by Richard Chevenix Trench 132 years before: the English language over a thousand or more years, every single word of it, brought to light.

The fact that so much text is now available online has been the most cataclysmic change. Words that would previously have been spoken are now typed on social media. Lexicographers of slang have long dreamed of being able to track variant forms down to the level, say, of an individual London tower block, says the slang expert and OED consultant Jonathon Green; now, via Facebook or Instagram, this might actually be possible. Lexicographers can be present almost at the moment of word-birth: where previously a coinage such as mansplain would have had to find its way into a durable printed record, which a researcher could use as evidence of its existence, it is now available near-instantly to anyone.

Anyone, and anywhere when the OED was first dreamed up in the 1850s, English was a language of the British Isles, parts of North America, and a scattering of colonies. These days, nearly a quarter of the worlds population, 1.5bn people, speak some English, mostly as a second language except, of course, that it isnt one language. There are myriad regional variants, from the patois spoken in the West Indies and Pidgin forms of West Africa to a brood of compound offspring Wenglish (Welsh English), Indlish or Hinglish (Indian/Hindi English), and the Chinglish of Hong Kong and Macau. All of these Englishes are more visible now than ever, each cross-fertilising others at greater and greater speed.

The circle of the English language has a well-defined centre but no discernible circumference, James Murray once wrote, but modern lexicographers beg to differ. Instead of one centre, there are many intersecting subgroups, each using a variety of Englishes, inflected by geographical background or heritage, values, other languages, and an almost incalculable number of variables. And the circumference is expanding faster than ever. If OED lexicographers are right that around 7,000 new English words surface annually a mixture of brand-new coinages and words the dictionary has missed then in the time youve been reading this, perhaps two more words have come into being.

Most people, of course, now never go near a dictionary, but simply type phrases into Wikipedia (used more often as a dictionary than an encyclopedia, research suggests) or rely on Google, which through a deal with Oxford Dictionaries offers thumbnail definitions, audio recordings of pronunciations, etymology, a graph of usage over time and translation facilities. If you want to know what a word means, you can just yell something at Siri or Alexa.

Dictionaries have been far too slow to adjust, argues Jane Solomon of Information-retrieval is changing so fast, she said. Why dont dictionaries respond intelligently to the semantic or user context, like figuring out that youre searching for food words, and give you related vocabulary or recipes? And not just words: Id love to include emojis; people are so creative with them. Theyve become a whole separate language. People sometimes need explanation; if you send your daughter the eggplant emoji, she might think thats weird.

Some have dared to dream even bigger than polysemous aubergines. One is a computer professor at the Sapienza University of Rome called Roberto Navigli, who in 2013 soft-launched a site called Babelnet, which aims to be the dictionary to beat all dictionaries in part by not really being a dictionary at all. Described as a semantic network that pulls together 15 existing resources including Wikipedia, Wiktionary and Microsoft Terminology, it aims to create a comprehensive, hierarchical root map of not just English but of 271 languages simultaneously, making it the largest lexicon/encyclopedia/thesaurus/reference work on the web. Navigli told me that his real aim was to use semantic technology to enable the holy grail for software engineers everywhere: autonomous machine-reading of text. This is the dream, right? he said. The machine that can read text and understand everything we say.

Machines already understand a lot, of course. Some have talked of culturomics, a form of computational lexicology that uses corpus tools to analyse and forecast trends in human behaviour. A 31-month study of Twitter tried to measure the shifting sentiments of the British population about austerity, and there is even a claim somewhat disputed that a passively crowd-sourced study of global media could have foretold the Arab spring. At least on a large scale, computers, and the information giants who own and lease the data, may be able to comprehend language better than we comprehend it ourselves.

For lexicographers and Google alike, one linguistic frontier remains stubbornly inaccessible. Whereas its now easy to assemble written-text corpora and open a window on how language functions in a particular environment, doing so for spoken language has always been far harder. The reason is obvious: recording speech, then transcribing it and creating a usable database, is both time-consuming and hugely expensive. Speech corpora do exist, but are notoriously small and unrepresentative (its easy to work with court transcripts; far harder to eavesdrop on what lawyers say down the pub).

For lexicographers, speech is the most precious resource of all, and the most elusive. If you could capture large samples of it people speaking in every context imaginable, from playgrounds to office canteens to supermarkets you could monitor even more accurately how we use language, day to day. If we cracked the technology for transcribing normal conversations, Michael Rundell said, it really would be a game-changer.

For OEDs editors, this world is both exhilarating and, one senses, mildly overwhelming. The digital era has enabled Oxford lexicographers to run dragnets deeper and deeper through the language, but it has also threatened to capsize the operation. When youre making a historical dictionary and are required to check each and every resource, then recheck those resources when, say, a corpus of handwritten 17th-century letters comes on stream, the problem of keeping the dictionary up to date expands to even more nightmarish proportions. Adding to that dictionary to accommodate new words themselves visible in greater numbers than ever before, mutating ever-faster increases the nightmare exponentially. In the early years of digital, we were a little out of control, Peter Gilliver told me. Its never-ending, one OED lexicographer agreed. You can feel like youre falling into the wormhole.

Adding to the challenge is a story that has become wearily familiar: while more people are consulting dictionary-like resources than ever, almost no one wants to shell out. Sales of hard-copy dictionaries have collapsed, far more calamitously than in other sectors. (OUP refused to give me figures, citing commercial sensitivities. I dont think youll get any publisher to fess up about this, Michael Rundell told me.) While reference publishers amalgamate or go to the wall, information giants such as Google and Apple get fat by using our own search terms to sell us stuff. If you can get a definition by holding your thumb over a word on your smartphone, why bother picking up a book?

Go to a dictionary conference these days and you see scared-looking people, Rundell said. Although he trained as a lexicographer, he now mainly works as a consultant, advising publishers on how to use corpus-based resources. It used to be a career, he went on. But there just arent the jobs there were 30 years ago. He pointed to his shelves, which were strikingly bare. But then Im not sentimental about print; I gave most of my dictionaries away.

Even if the infrastructure around lexicography has fallen away or been remade entirely, some things stay pleasingly consistent. Every lexicographer I spoke to made clear their distaste for word-lovers, who in the dictionary world are regarded as the type of person liable to scrawl fewer on to supermarket signs reading 10 items or less, or recite antidisestablishmentarianism to anyone who will listen. The normally genial John Simpson writes crisply that I take the hardline view that language is not there to be enjoyed; instead, it is there to be used.

The first edition of the New English Dictionary on Historical Principles, published in 1928. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

But love is, most grudgingly admit, what draws people to spend their lives sifting and analysing language. It takes a particular sort of human to be a word detective: something between a linguistics academic, an archival historian, a journalist and an old-fashioned gumshoe. Though hardly without its tensions corpus linguists versus old-school dictionary-makers, stats nerds versus scholarly etymologists lexicography seems to be one specialist profession with a lingering sense of common purpose: us against that ever-expanding, multi-headed hydra, the English language. It is pretty obsessive-compulsive, Jane Solomon said.

The idea of making a perfect linguistic resource was one most lexicographers knew was folly, she continued. Ive learned too much about past dictionaries to have that as a personal goal. But then, part of the thrill of being a lexicographer is knowing that the work will never be done. English is always metamorphosing, mutating, evolving; its restless dynamism is what makes it so absorbing. Its always on the move, said Solomon. You have to love that.

There are other joys, too: the thrill of catching a new sense, or crafting a definition that feels, if not perfect, at least right. It sounds cheesy, but it can be like poetry, Michael Rundell reflected. Making a dictionary is as much an art as a craft.

Despite his pessimism about the industry, he talked with real excitement about a project he was about to join, working with experts from the Goldfield Aboriginal Language Centre on indigenous Australian languages, scantily covered by lexicographers. Dictionaries can make a genuine difference, he said. They give power to languages that might have had very little power in the past; they can help preserve and share it. I really believe that.

Throughout it all, OED churns on, attempting to be ever so slightly more complete today than it was yesterday or the day before. The dictionary team now prefer to refer to it as a moving document. Words are only added; they are never deleted. When I suggested to Michael Proffitt that it resembled a proud but leaky Victorian warship whose crew were trying to keep out the leaks and simultaneously keep it on course, he looked phlegmatic. I used to say it was like painting the Forth bridge, never-ending. But then they stopped a new kind of paint, I think. He paused. Now its just us.

These days OED issues online updates four times a year; though it has not officially abandoned the idea of another print edition, that idea is fading. Seven months after I first asked how far they had got into OED3, I enquired again; the needle had crept up to 48.7%. We are going to get it done, Proffitt insisted, though as I departed Oxford, I thought James Murray might have raised a thin smile at that. If the update does indeed take until 2037, it will rival the 49 years it took the original OED to be created, whereupon it will presumably need overhauling all over again.

A few days ago, I emailed to see if mansplain had finally reached the OED. It had, but there was a snag further research had pushed the word back a crucial six months, from February 2009 to August 2008. Then, no sooner had Patons entry gone live in January than someone emailed to point out that even this was inaccurate: they had spotted mansplain on a May 2008 blog post, just a month after the writer Rebecca Solnit had published her influential essay Men Explain Things to Me. The updated definition, Proffitt assured me, will be available as soon as possible.

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