Manspreading: how New York City’s MTA popularized a word without actually saying it

New York City, home of Oxford Dictionaries’ New York offices, has made numerous contributions to the English lexicon through the years, as disparate as knickerbocker and hip hop. One of Gotham’s most recent impacts was the popularization of manspreading, defined in the latest update of Oxford Dictionaries as ‘the practice whereby a man, especially one on public transportation, adopts a sitting position with his legs wide apart, in such a way as to encroach on an adjacent seat or seats.’

The word met our criteria for inclusion by amassing a large amount of evidence in a wide variety of sources, and it did so in a remarkably short period of time. As the chart below shows, evidence of manspreading on Oxford’s New Monitor Corpus, which is used to track the emergence of new words, closely corresponded with the launch of a campaign by New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to encourage courteous behavior on the subway — including ending the practice of taking up more than one seat. Evidence of the word manspreading first registered on our tracking corpus in November 2014 when the campaign was first ‘teased’, and the word’s use shot into the stratosphere in December, when the campaign officially launched.

Read more: Oxford Dictionaries Blog

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