John Simpson of the OED was interviewed by Evan Davies on last Friday’s Radio 4 Today programme, about ‘new words’ in the OED.
One of the words mentioned was medal, used as a verb, which Evan had noticed for the first time this summer, in connexion with the London Olympics, meaning “to win a medal”. John pointed out that the word had been current with this meaning since at least the 1960s, the earliest reference in the on-line OED being from the Valley News (California) on 9 June that year. Like Evan, I had never heard it until this year, so it may be that it has taken some time to cross the Atlantic, probably with those athletes who have trained in the US.
Another example of a new word – to me at least – is de-arrest: my local paper carried a news story about some suspicious individuals who tried to collect used cooking oil from a restaurant, apparently claiming to be from the council. A police spokeswoman said “He and another man were arrested on suspicion of theft while we tried to check out who they were. They have now been de-arrested.” Is this a different procedure from what would have been carried out if they had been merely released? I can see a nice distinction being made between the two, rather like marriages being dissolved or annulled (the one admitting their previous existence, and the other denying that they had ever been contracted).
The OED says of de-arrest: obsolete, rare. The only quotation given dates from 1791: “A ship dearrested or released by order of Council”. It adds “= dis-arrest”. The most recent quotation for dis-arrest is from 1693, so even more obsolete than de-arrest.
Since writing this, I’ve found an article in the Guardian from 1 March 2006 in which this paragraph appears:
“According to section 30, subsection (7) and (7A) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, to ‘de-arrest’ is to allow that ‘a person who has been arrested under any act of law at a place other than a police station, shall be released before reaching a police station if a constable is satisfied that there are no grounds for keeping him under arrest’. Unlike being released with no further action, being de-arrested means that the record of the initial arrest is removed.”
So, de-arrest is officially not obsolete!