David Bowie, Chicago, 2002 (photo by Adam Bielawski)
David Bowie, Chicago, 2002 (photo by Adam Bielawski)

Among all the media evaluations of David Bowie’s life, it was quietly gratifying to see a Time article by Katy Steinmetz (David Bowie and the Oxford Dictionary Had a Mutual Love Affair) highlighting the references to Bowie and his music that have found their way into the OED.

The article couldn’t have been written without all the work that began at the OED in the 1980s on digitising the dictionary, and including new words to capture new usage. Katy – who interviewed me a few years ago about the OED – rightly ties these references to the cultural changes of the period. And that’s what words do …

As the article says:

“Part of what makes the OED so unparalleled is that it is a historical dictionary. Its editors don’t just define words using their guts or brains. They use evidence. They are investigators who gather quotations from all spans of time to show what a word has meant to people, and from that they derive their definitions.

Like figures ranging from F. Scott Fitzgerald to the Fonz, Bowie shows up in words spanning the alphabet, the same one that he arranged so beautifully and artfully for so many years.”