So, what is va-va-voom? Thierry gets his answer

FRENCH footballer Thierry Henry has prompted a new entry in the English dictionary, it emerged yesterday.

The Arsenal striker has appeared in TV commercials for car maker Renault trying to figure out the meaning of the term “va-va-voom”.

Authors of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary could help him with the answer after deciding to include the word for the first time in its latest edition published yesterday.

The dictionary meaning of va-va-voom is: “The quality of being exciting, vigorous, or sexually attractive”.

Judy Pearsall, from the Oxford University Press, explained that while the term was around before the Henry adverts, it was now in common enough use to warrant an entry.

“We have evidence of it going back to the 1950s from the US as imitating the noise of an engine,” she said.

“But it is Thierry Henry’s use of the term in the TV adverts that has earned it a place in the dictionary. We have seen it used more widely as a result.”

Va-va-voom is one of a long list of new words and phrases to make it into the 11th edition of the dictionary.

The war in Iraq is among recent events that have influenced the other additions.

Among the conflict-related entries are “blue-on-blue”, meaning: “denoting or relating to an attack made by one’s own side that accidentally harms one’s own forces.” Another is “bioweapon”: “A harmful biological agent used as a weapon of war”.

Ms Pearsall, publishing manager of English dictionaries, said: “Whenever you get a major conflict, you get new vocabulary or military vocabulary that has spread out into the general population.”

The latest dictionary contains new words and phrases that sum up modern life.

One example is “congestion charge”, described as: “A charge made to drive into an area, typically a city centre, that suffers heavy traffic.”

Others include:

Cybercrime - Criminal activities carried out by means of computers or the internet.

Designer baby - A baby whose genetic make-up has been selected in order to eradicate a particular defect, or to ensure that a particular gene is present.

Speed dating - An organised social activity in which people have a series of short conversations with potential partners in order to determine whether there is mutual interest.

Plasma screen - A flat display screen which uses an array of cells containing an inert gas which emits ultraviolet radiation when ionised to form a plasma, causing visible light of an appropriate colour to be emitted separately for each cell of the screen.

Flash mob - A public gathering of complete strangers, organised via the internet or mobile phone, who perform a pointless act and then disperse again.

Ms Pearsall explained the selection process for including new additions to the dictionary. “We have readers who go through various sources, from websites and journals to books and even comics. Anywhere you can think of where the written word is collected,” she said.

“Then what we do is use a point system where we judge each word on a certain criteria.”

Ms Pearsall said these readers had witnessed a growing number of writers getting words mixed up. “People are writing more than ever before, especially in less formal situations such as e-mail and chatrooms, and it is here that we see the most confusion.

“Whether such mistakes will, in time, spill over into more formal types of writing is yet to be seen.

“The question is: does it matter, if, in a generation’s time, people are writing about ‘pouring over magazines’ or ‘towing the line’?”

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