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Winehouse and Cameron lined up in a war of words

Oh pur-leeze! Those awful clichés "less is more" and "x is the new black" – uttered by people who want to sound intelligent without troubling their brains – are officially part of the English language. So are Amy Winehouse, David Cameron, Kate Middleton and the Arctic Monkeys.

These latest additions to the official English vocabulary have emerged from the intense competition between two leading dictionaries. There is the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, founded in 1857 and bearing the name of a famous university, and the Collins English Dictionary, which has the advantage of being part of the one of the biggest publishing empires in the world. It is produced by HarperCollins, owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Both dictionaries have this week announced lists of words and phrases that they have included for the first time, in the hope of enticing customers to buy the new editions they are bringing out for the autumn book-buying season.

New entries to the sixth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, out this month, have carried a heavily green tinge. "Biosecurity", "carbon footprint", "carbon neutral", and "Chelsea tractor" have all made their debut.

"Suddenly people have become much more concerned about climate change," said Angus Stevenson, its editor. "It's trendy to be green, and that has made the vocabulary of green issues much more widespread."

Other new words are "addy", meaning an email address, "webinar", a seminar conducted on the internet, "WAGs" –wives and girlfriends, most frequently applying to footballers' other halves – and "manbag", a man's handbag.

Among the newly included expressions there is "less is more", "the new black", "take a chill pill" and "yummy mummy." And earlier in the week, Collins revealed some of the new entrants to the biographical section of its online edition, which will be launched next month. Kate Middleton, Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Radcliffe, the Arctic Monkeys, David Cameron, Helen Mirren, and the Duchess of Cornwall are now all there.

"We're the only dictionary to include such entries," a spokesman said. "At the moment Kate Middleton is the name on everybody's lips. If she splits up with Prince William again, we'll take her out of it."

Collins' printed version is based on a massive database, the Collins World Web, which claims to be the world's biggest collection of English words and phrases . It is updated by scanning an enormous range of publications and radio and television outlets, ranging from Britain's The Sun to Channel Africa.

Where Collins has technology, the OED has input from some very learned contributors, past and present, including J.J.R. Tolkien, who worked on the dictionary as young graduate just after the First World War, long before he injected the word "hobbit" into the language. He specialised in words beginning with "w" and pinned down the origin of the word 'walrus'.

The Shorter OED is actually a massive two-volume tome but is a fraction of the length of the full OED itself, which has 20 volumes, over 300,000 entries, almost 250,000 etymologies, and 577,000 cross references.

The OED maintains a website for recording new additions, revised definitions, and new words. "Pur-leeze", despite looking like a misspelling, was one of the words confirmed last week. The OED's Katherine Connor Martin, explained: "The respelling of 'please' to indicate an emphatic or sarcastic pronunciation has become sufficiently well established to warrant inclusion."

The words that got in

New words from Collins:

Celebutantes – young heiresses who morph into celebrities

Gitmo – Guantanamo Bay

Hoodie – young person with hooded sweatshirt

Leetspeak – jargon used by internet groups

New words from the OED:

Biffy – toilet

Darknet – illicit computer network

Heaviosity – quality of being serious, or intense

Impactful – having a great impact or effect

Lush – very pleasing or good

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