June 21, 2001
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The Rediff US Special/ Aseem Chhabra

It's Official: OED Recognises Bollywood

In 1976 when H R F Keating wrote Filmi, Filmi, Inspector Ghote -- his tenth mystery novel featuring the detective work of Inspector Ganesh Ghote of the Bombay police force -- little did he know that 25 years later the Oxford English Dictionary would credit him with first using the word 'Bollywood'.

Yes, 'Bollywood', the word that is so often used across the subcontinent and in the diaspora to describe the romance, songs, dances and madness of the Hindi film industry and which conjures up images of Raj Kapoor, Nargis and their latter-day counterparts like Amitabh Bachchan, Rekha, Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit, is now included in the online edition of OED -- mother of the formal English language.

Last week, in an effort to capture the English language as it has evolved in the late 20th century in the English-speaking world, OED's online edition opened its door to 250 new entries.

In addition to Bollywood, the new entries include the word 'duh!' -- a grunting sound popularised by the American cultural icon Homer Simpson, father of Bart and Lisa Simpson and husband of Marge, all characters created by Matt Groening for the Fox Network's long-running animation show The Simpsons.

Other new words and expressions include the terminology of the Internet world -- 'dot com', 'cybersurfer', 'cybersex', 'cyberporn', 'chat room', 'browser', and 'MP3'.

The Bollywood entry reads as follows:
Bollywood, n.
Brit. /blwd/, US /bliwd/ [Humorous blend of the name of Bombay (see BOMBAY n.) and HOLLYWOOD n.]

The Indian film industry, based in Bombay; Bombay regarded as the base of this industry.

"We run a reading programme here and in the United States that is designed to find new and interesting vocabulary in the widest possible range of English language sources in the world," Michael Proffitti, OED's principal editor of new words, said from his office in Oxford, England. The reading programme has about 50 paid members, who scan through all sorts of international publications, he added.

"We try to make the reading programme as international as possible and try to get hold of sources that are rather hard to find," he said. "When we see a word that has acquired certain frequency over five or more years, we start further research, trying to find the first usage in print."

"So we were finding the word 'Bollywood' coming up not just in Indian sources, but British and American sources as well," Proffitti added. The earliest source Proffitti's office could lay its hand on was the Keating book.

The quote where Keating uses the word reads: "Soon after she had given up the role of Rani Maqbet... she left Ravi Kumar to go to Dhartiraj. My revelation she had done that was the greatest sensation ever to come out of Bollywood."

The second source quoted by OED is from the May 1987 issue of the New Internationalist: "'Bollywood'... Bombay's Hindi-language movie industry... is the world's most prolific cinema industry."

OED editors also found the word in the March 5, 1994, issue of The Times -- "In its sweep, the book reminds one of a Bombay -- or 'Bollywood' -- cinematic blockbuster."

The last quote appears in the June 25, 2000, electronic edition of The Hindu (by now everyone, including this reporter, was using the word 'Bollywood'): "In what has been a major marketing event for the Hindi film industry, Bollywood's big stars assembled today for an evening of awards and entertainment."

Hindi film purists may claim that Keating was not the first to use the word. One source suggests that the word may have been coined by the filmi gossip magazine Stardust, perhaps by the writers of 'Neeta's Natter', the catty and popular front section of the monthly publication. And Proffitti would be the first to accept that opinion.

"There is nothing to suggest that Keating actually coined Bollywood, so the search for an earlier quotation continues," he said, suggesting that a change could be made in the current sequence of citations. "I am not sure when the next print publication of the OED will be. One of the advantages of publishing in electronic form is that we can introduce changes to the text quite easily."

Proffitti also acknowledged that the statement that the Indian film industry is based in Bombay is not altogether correct. Bollywood and Bombay are the bases of the Hindi film industry. In addition to Bombay, the Indian film industry has other regional centres, including Calcutta, Hyderabad and Madras. So perhaps the next revision will include words for these industries as well.

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