Balderdash & Piffle

The Oxford English Dictionary is asking for public assistance to help them trace the history of 40 well-known words and phrases.

The results of this new Wordhunt will feature in hit BBC Two series Balderdash & Piffle, presented by Victoria Coren, which returns this spring.

This year the OED and the BBC are appealing via the Balderdash & Piffle Wordhunt for help with words relating to dogs, fashion, and dodgy dealings, as well as for euphemisms, insults and some choice X-rated terms.

Did anyone go dogging before 1993, have a domestic before 1963 or go to the loo before 1940? The OED needs to know.

Who was Gordon Bennett, was his name really first invoked in 1967 and, above all, why?

Is Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset really the birthplace of the marital aid?

What’s so daft about a brush?

The OED seeks to find the earliest verifiable usage of every single word in the English language – currently 600,000 and counting – and of every separate meaning of every word.

The 40 words on the new Wordhunt list all have a date next to them – corresponding to the earliest evidence the dictionary currently has for that word or phrase. But can the British public do better?

Successful findings will not only feature in the new series but will be published in the OED. Some suggestions as to where to start wordhunting can be found at

Some of the nation’s favourite insults feature in this year’s Wordhunt. The OED is optimistic that help from the public will enable them to improve their dictionary entries for prat, wally, wassock, and tosser.

To join the Wordhunt, people need to find an earlier appearance of the word in a book or a magazine, in a movie script, a fanzine, or even in unpublished papers, letters or a post-marked postcard. It might even appear first online or in a sound recording. The most important thing is that it can be dated.

So dog’s bollocks meaning the bee’s knees before 1989, anyone?

Sometimes the OED can’t tell how a word was invented, so these words are listed as origin unknown or origin uncertain and the Balderdash & Piffle team would love to hear convincing theories from the public. If the theory is proved right it might help in rewriting the dictionary.

In 2006, Balderdash & Piffle viewers came up trumps by providing evidence to update the dictionary – setting them straight on the ploughman’s lunch, the ninety-nine ice cream, and the full monty, among many others.

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