“Flash Mob” in the Oxford English Dictionary

July 9th, 2004

This just in:

Date: Fri, 9 Jul 2004 12:42:13 -0400
From: Bill [censored]
To: sean[at], mike[at], [censored]@[censored]
Subject: ha!

“Flash mob” made the OED:

Together, we have permanently altered the English language. Will
future humans forgive us?

(Future humans? We’re still working on today’s humans!)

[I pasted the text of the article below, because the Yahoo link will expire soon.]

– – –

Thu Jul 8, 8:48 AM ET

LONDON (AFP) – Thanks to a French footballer’s television commercials for a popular French car, the English language officially has a new word: Va-va-voom.

“The quality of being exciting, vigorous, or sexually attractive,” say the compilers of the 11th edition of the Oxford Concise English Dictionary, which hits bookshops Thursday.

Thierry Henry speaks the word — or more precisely, asks just what does it mean — in prime-time plugs for Renault, which hired the suave Arsenal striker to give its humble Clio sedan a more masculine image.

Few anglophones outside Britain may have seen the ad, but July Pearsall from Oxford University Press said va-va-voom now was common enough to merit a place in one of the world’s most widely consulted dictionaries.

“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.”

Other new entries owe their introduction to the Iraq war, she said.

They include “blue-on-blue” (“denoting or relating to an attack made by one’s own side that accidentally harms one’s own forces) and “bioweapon” (“a harmful biological agent used as a weapon of war)”.

Other new terms include “congestion charge” (“a charge made to drive into an area, typically a city centre, that suffers heavy traffic”) and “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”) also makes the Oxford dictionary pages.

So too does “flash mob” (“a public gathering of complete strangers, organised via the Internet or mobile phone, who perform a pointless act and then disperse again)”.

6 Responses to ““Flash Mob” in the Oxford English Dictionary”

  1. comment number 1 by: Mike

    Few people can claim to have coined a word that made it into the OED. You should be proud. Even if you did censor me out. 😉

  2. comment number 2 by: sean

    Thanks Mike

    Three people involved in kicking off flash mobs asked specifically to remain anonymous — that’s why I censored all those names by default. No offense! I put your name back in. Hold your head high Mike!

  3. comment number 3 by: sean


    FYI, Larry Niven is the author you refer to, and the term he used (and the title of the novella he used it in) to describe teleportation mobs was “flash crowd.” This term was later applied to the Internet, when the “flash crowd effect” was used to describe a Web server being swamped when news about something on that site spreads quickly and causes a large mass of people to try to hit the server simultaneously.

  4. comment number 4 by: Anonymous

    somewhat late a post, but a ‘flash riot’ of a more nasty nature did actually take place in The Netherlands a couple of years ago. i don’t remember the date, but it happened that fans of Ajax and Feyenoord, two of the top three soccer teams, from respectively Amsterdam and Rotterdam, hooked up by mobile phone and met in a field besides a highway for a brawl. one person was killed. only because traffic cameras captured the event could the responsible persons be identified and brought before a court.

  5. comment number 5 by: deh shoek

    forgot to leave my name and some googling provides the missing information: the incident took place march 23rd, 1997. it was an Ajax fan, Carlo Picornie, who died. the fight lasted for only 3 minutes and the number of vandals involved was 350. but this is only an estimate because most of them made off by car before police arrived.

    i’d call that a flash riot.

  6. comment number 6 by: Anon

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    You are invited to take part in a project, come rain or shine, at 12 midday go to winchester cathedral green and simply stand for 15 mins, then leave, simply.

    Or pass this on!