Supermoon

With current global events here on planet Earth being, well, as they are, let’s look further afield for our word of the month this month, far away from earthly matters. On 7 May if you look at the night sky, you might see a full moon – no biggie, you may think, we get one of those every month. Ah, but on 7 May it will be a supermoon.

supermoon
https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/supermoon

Supermoons make the moon appear brighter and closer than normal, and actually this will be our third full moon supermoon already this year, so we are lucky. I mean, the addition of ‘super’ to anything makes it better, doesn’t it: a superman is better than a normal man, a celebrity’s superfans are superior to their usual fans, and wouldn’t we all prefer superfast broadband over the plain old high-speed variety?

Astronomers have been observing supermoons for centuries, but they call them perigean full moons or perigean new moons. The perigee is the point in the moon’s orbit when it is nearest to the earth:

supermoon
https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/perigee

And the term supermoon itself is not new; it was coined in 1979 by astrologer Richard Nolle. However, it didn’t really enter popular usage until the mid-2010s, when November 2016 saw the brightest supermoon since 1948. The word was not in the print edition of OALD9, but is in OALD10, and was added to the online version of the dictionary about halfway between the two editions, reflecting its increase in usage. I predict that it will be in the news next week, or at least in the weather section, accompanied by photographs from around the world.

And the rise of the supermoon in turn reflects an increase in the usage of ‘super’ in recent years. OALD suggests that the adjective meaning ‘extremely good’ is becoming old-fashioned:

  • We had a super time in Italy.

But our analysis of corpus shows that it is increasingly common as a modifier and as a combining form for other words, especially in more informal speech and writing:

  • I’m super excited about the party.
  • a pair of supercool new trainers
  • holiday destinations for the super-rich

Is super the new really? It can be used to modify adjectives (super friendly), nouns (Super Tuesday), even verbs – I have heard that a ‘super like’ button has been introduced on a certain popular dating app, for those cases when ‘like’ just isn’t quite enough. This word really is super useful!

So, weather and circumstances permitting, on 7 May we may be able to look up and enjoy the supermoon, sitting super comfortably at home, perhaps whilst also enjoying a supersize portion of our favourite food – especially if they’re superfoods. Super!


Jennifer Bradbery is Digital Product Development Manager in the ELT Dictionaries department at Oxford University Press. Before joining OUP as an editor, she spent many years either teaching, teacher training, or both, in the UK and abroad.


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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

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