A New Language Emerges

I doubt there has ever been a more fascinating time to study the evolution of language. Change, a natural part of language, has been sped up in such a way that we can now see that evolution happening right in front of our eyes, as if an ape had simply hopped down from a tree right in front of us and immediately stood upright.

Technology and lighting speed mass communication tools are the agents of this change, and they are affecting not only individual languages but also the nature and structure of language itself. And now, a new language itself has been born out of the increasing use of symbols to express ideas – the language of emoji.

The global language monitor recognised this last year when it named the heart emoji as its word of the year, Now, Professor Vyv Evans of Bangor University has declared emoji the fastest evolving language of all time, comparing their usage to that of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, and given their increasing usage and ability to render more than just simple ideas, he clearly has a point.

Emoji

Emoji

“As a visual language emoji has already far eclipsed hieroglyphics, its ancient Egyptian precursor which took centuries to develop,” he said. “Emoji is the fastest growing form of language in history based on its incredible adoption rate and speed of evolution.”

To illustrate this, Talk Talk Mobile put out a quiz to see how well you know your emoji. More by deduction than anything else I came out with a respectable 50%, though I will still admit that I don’t know my emoji arse from my elbow (a phrase I so far seem unable to render in picture form). My wife and 10-year-old daughter blazed to much closer to 100%, to prove the point

But with emoji emerging as a universal language that, unlike Esperanto, people will actually use in the future, what does this mean? Will emoji have evolved to such an extent that in a few years’ time, it will actually become a lingua franca of digital communication?

Clearly the jury is still on that, but a form of communication based on iconography and human faces has the power to be understood by everybody. And as scholars look for clues about the universal language capability at the root of all of our speech, perhaps the growth of this form of communication can give us some genuine insights into the brain’s hard-wired ability to learn a language

Grexit Not Just for Grimbo

Whatever you may feel about the economic ramifications of Greece’s ongoing financial hardships, you have to acknowledge the contribution they have made to the English language.

First we had Grexit, the prospect of Greece leaving the euro, which spawned many sub-genres of alternative exit word. And now, with economic paralysis because Greece has still not left the eurozone but still might, there is a state of limbo. A Greek limbo. Or Grimbo, if you will.

Citigroup, the economics experts who gave us Grexit back in 2012, are responsible for the latest word. In a statement, they explained the economic backdrop and concluded that “Grexit in the next few months is not inconceivable, and it is certainly more likely if we consider Grimbo durations of a year or more.” No gobbledygook there then.

Sadly this will not be the end of the Greek neologisms. Economists at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch have responded with Grexhaustion, the definition of which frankly escapes me at the moment but is unlikely to be ‘being fed up with the coining of new words to describe the Greek economic crisis’.

But the one thing that is certain as this situation rolls on is that for as long as people are reporting it, then they will be vying with each other to coin the next Greek-inspired word to describe the crisis. The ultimate game of Grone-upmanship, perhaps.

Mobilegeddon not Apocalyptic

If you really want to stress somebody out about an impending technological disaster then give it a really scary name. Just think Millennium Bug.

Of course the turn of the millennium proved to be less parasitical than had been predicted, and the downside of crying technology wolf is that when you incorrectly predict the apocalypse, so dire warnings that are important might end up being ignored. And so that brings us to Mobilegeddon.

Last week you could barely avoid articles about the subject and could have been forgiven for thinking that the mobile network was about to melt, such is the impact of coining a -geddon word. But no. Instead, Google was making a change in its search algorithm, meaning that websites not in tip-top condition when viewed on mobile phones would be penalised in mobile search results, potentially hitting traffic to them.

When I write that sentence, I can see the need for a catchy term of some sort to promote interest, as clearly there is nothing sexy about the subject matter when you come to describe it. But by coining something so over the top, and the website Search Engine Land has been credited for it, it overplayed something which might not otherwise have made the national press but equally might not have deserved to as it’s not really that interesting.

The dearth of coverage outside the techie press since Mobilegeddon Day on April 21 confirms this was never really a mainstream story and not really deserving of the growing usage of -geddon as a suffix. It is not a word that will be with us for long.

And because I know you’re wondering, Wordability passed its mobile-readiness test with flying colours. So there’s no excuse for not reading.

Wordability

Wordability passes the test

Fracas Outbreak on the Way

It’s interesting how old words sometimes become new words, especially when it’s a row about dinner which creates the transformation. But so it is for ‘fracas’, which has rapidly become one of the most overused words in the UK in the last week following TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson’s unseemly spat with a producer over an allegedly missing steak.

Amid the outbreak of analysis and comment about Clarkson’s future job prospects with the BBC, there has been one almost consistent theme, namely that the word ‘fracas’ is being used in inverted commas almost universally when appearing in headlines.

I think there are two reasons for this. The journalistic and legal explanation is that this was the word used when the altercation first came to light, so it is not only a direct quotation from the original sources but also offers no judgment on the outcome of any hearing, it is the neutral word that describes rather than finds fault.

But I think there is a little more to it than that. New words often appear in inverted commas when they take their first tentative steps into the English language, especially if they find themselves swiftly elevated to headline status. I think that fracas appearing in this way confirms that for many people, it is a very unfamiliar or new word to many, and should be treated as such. Some of the coverage given to the word itself supports this.

So what of the future. Will fracas return to its normal humble routine once the whole Clarkson thing dies down? I’m not sure that it will. I suspect that fracas will now gain a new lease of life and will start to be used in myriad other contexts when there is talk of any sort of an angry coming together. It will always reference back to the Clarkson affair and mean things are seen within that prism, but expect to see fracas being used with greater alacrity in the weeks and months to come as the new word for this kind of incident. 

Spocking Starts To Prosper

And so Leonard Nimoy passed away a few days ago, and the world was awash with tributes to a fine actor who had left an indelible memory across the globe as Spock of Star Trek fame.

Roll on a few days, and Nimoy is still in the news, only this time because his image has been appearing across banknotes in Canada. Encouraged by the Canadian Design Resource, citizens have been ‘Spocking’ their banknotes. This involves drawing the legendary sci-fi character’s pointy ears and haircut onto Wilfrid Laurier, who appears on the country’s five dollar bill. The practice has continued despite the country’s central bank asking for it to cease.

While I can understand how the physical similarity between the 19th century prime minister and the Vulcan genius has spawned such a development, I am less unsure as to why Canada should be should be a hotbed of Trekkie tribute, as I can see no connection between the actor or the show that should make it so. Perhaps a fan can enlighten me.

But it is nice to see Star Trek making another indelible mark on language. From boldly splitting an infinitive to creating an entire language that has its own institute, Spocking is a new word which will find a small niche in our vocabulary this year and will be fondly remembered in years to come. In other words, it will live short but prosper.

China Goes Duang Crazy

This week, the internet has been in meltdown about the internet being in meltdown. And it’s been the creation of a new word which has done it.

Duang

Duang

Chinese social media almost exploded with the appearance of the word ‘Duang’, according to reports. Heard initially in a shampoo commercial by film star Jackie Chan in 2004, it re-emerged recently in a remix of the ad. Shortly afterwards the word went viral to such an extent that there were reports shortly afterwards about the word which broke the internet in China.

The facts about all of this seem curiously hard to pin down. What does duang mean? Nobody knows. One of its virtues seems to be that it has no meaning. The Chinese internet has supposedly melted because people have been putting into random statements and contexts indiscriminately, with everybody making sure they have been part of the neologistic craze, without, it seems, knowing why.

And why it has taken off is the other question I can’t really find an answer to. Some reports suggest it is timed to coincide with a new session of a legislative board which advises China’s government and of which Chan is a member. The word therefore either satirises him or pays homage to him. Who knows!

What is clear is that it remains a Chinese phenomenon. While it is now surfacing with reasonable frequency on Twitter, most of those links seem to be to articles about its usage, rather than using the term in the way in which it initially appeared, or at least that is true of the citations in English. In Chinese social media of course it is completely different, and that is where the major growth has been. So I don’t think this is an internationally born word which will make a crossover into English.

But what it does demonstrate is the way that new words can explode across our new forms of communication with almost bacterial speed, and that sometimes, they don’t even need to have a tangible meaning in order to exist. Sometimes, usage of word is enough to show you belong to something, and that is why people have been using it in their droves, to ensure they are part of the trend. And I’m Duang sure I’m right about that about that.

 

Brelfies The Latest Craze

I vowed to myself that I would never again write about a Selfie derivative. And yet…

So another craze is now exploding across the Internet. Brelfies, breastfeeding selfies, are the latest phenonemon, as breastfeeding mothers post photographs of themselves feeding their tiny offspring.

I am not going to get into a debate about the pros and cons of the images themselves – others are probably far better placed. Instead, I want to draw attention to it in the annals of Wordability as one of the many Selfie crazes which seems to have gained some traction, and probably more than some of the other ones I have covered such as Felfies, Usies and Belfies.

But there is more than just recognising its existence. What is interesting is the way that Selfie is evolving as a word. The ‘elfie’ suffix can take almost anything at the beginning to denote a particular type of photo, but it has already undergone a semantic evolution. Selfies are very specifically photos that people take of themselves. Brelfies on the other hand are not taken by their subject, they are photographs of individuals but are taken by other people.

So the idea of a photographic portrait is being overtaken by the Selfie, whose linguistic derivatives are rapidly growing to encapsulate all kinds of photos of individuals. I wonder if it is possible that individual images of people will all come to be referred to in Selfie terms in the future, and the portrait photo will become a thing of the past. I wouldn’t rule it out.