Photobomb Starts Word of the Year Season

So Word of the Year season has started, and Collins dictionary is first off the mark with Photobomb as its choice for 2014. Explaining its choice, it says that photobombing has come of age this year, with the habit of popping up unexpectedly in the back of people’s photos exemplified by Benedict Cumberbatch and The Queen among others this year.

Collins lexicographer Ian Brookes said that the word was an undeniable winner and had been tracked for a couple of years, adding: “Its vastly increased prominence in 2014 shows the power of media and sporting events to publicise a word and bring it into wider use.”

Second place went to Tinder, a dating app, while Bakeoff, as in the hit BBC cooking show, came third.

This depressing list highlights the conclusion I have rapidly been coming to over the last few months. After some excellent years for language fans, I think that 2014 has been sadly lacking in terms of great new words being coined, or even old words getting a new lease of leaf. Part of me can’t help feeling that photobomb has been given this accolade because of Selfie’s success last year. So often has it subsequently been quoted as the word of 2013, getting in early with another popular form of imagery spread by social media could be construed as trying to ride on its coat tails.

The fact that second place goes to an app and third place to a TV show simply reinforces to me that choosing words of the year for 2014 will continue to prove particularly difficult, and that we may not look back on 2014 as a vintage year for new words.

You Know When You’ve Been Pardewed

Sport has always been fertile ground for new words. and we sports fans are known to appropriate the names of our heroes or villains as words to describe particular achievements or ways of playing. Dictionaries have even been known to follow suit, with Lionel Messi recently finding himself lionised by lexicographers as his name came to encapsulate a level of sporting perfection.

During his recent troubles in north-east England, it is unlikely that beleaguered Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has been thinking much about his contribution to the English language. However, his surname has taken on a raft of new connotations in recent months, and he is unlikely to be best pleased.

Over the last few months, Geordies have been discussing the concept of being Pardewed. To Be Pardewed means to have previously been a great player and then to have lost all your talent and ability while playing under Mr Pardew’s tutelage, or to be a player of great potential who has simply not fulfilled it. To ‘celebrate’ their manager’s achievements, local journalists are even now writing articles about the best players to have been Pardewed over the years.

Pardewed is currently a local word, used almost exclusively in the part of the world where Newcastle dominate. But when you think about it, it is quite a useful neologism. We all have experience of bad managers in all walks of life, people who have shown incredible ability to get the worst out of people, destroy their confidence and end up creating a shell of the person that employee could have been.

Alan Pardew’s legacy at Newcastle looks increasingly likely to be a negative one. From a linguistic point of view, wouldn’t it be great at least if he could leave a mark on the English language as one of his parting gifts.

Pairage Can Never Be Equal

It’s been some time since I have felt compelled to write about the issue of gay marriage, largely because politicians have refrained from trying to coin new words to describe these unions.

However, Utah Congressman Kraig Powell has become the latest politician to show that he simply doesn’t get it. The Republican has suggested that the best way to get round a current round of delays in the Supreme Court regarding gay marriage is to create a new word, suggesting this will solve the problem. His suggestion is that such unions be called Pairages.

My view on this remains exactly as it did last time I castigated a politician for suggesting an alternative word, in that case the word being Sarriage. The act of creating a new word automatically confers a different status on the act, thereby removing the equality that legislation legalising it is designed to give it. What is always presented as a neat way to solve administrative problems is actually a way to deny people the rights they are fighting for.

Hopefully this latest neologism will go the way of all the others and be nothing more than an idea that never gets any traction. That will leave courts and politicians free to get on with the important task of ensuring that everybody has the same rights as everybody else when they have found their perfect match.

A Shellshock From Bendgate

It’s not been a conspicuously great week for Apple. Problems with its latest operating system have seen customers complaining about their phones not working properly, and the subsequent decision to pull a software update hit the company’s share price.

Then of course there is the internet’s obsession with the physical problems associated with the new iPhone 6, and the claim that some of them are bending out of shape. Linguistically, Bendgate was almost inevitable, and while I have a general dislike of the ubiquity of the -gate suffix, every so often a gate comes along which is entertaining enough to pay attention to. Bendgate is so silly, and so trivial, that it somehow seems to hit the spot.

Away from phones, Apple Macs are also running into problems over a security vulnerability known as Shellshock, which has entered the technical language a few months after its Heartbleed cousin caused its own breed of havoc across the world’s computers.

Apple says that the vast majority of its users will be unaffected by this latest bug. However, a company which has influenced the language so much in the past must have been hoping that its big launch last week would lead to its new features being the words which would be dominating the tech press and making it into general usage now. Instead, the words which have gone into common usage are ones which paint a negative image of the company.

What’s been Fappening

It’s hardly surprising that the recent scandal over the hacking of embarrassing photos of celebrities has garnered so much attention. Pictures of stars such as Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton, wearing only what nature endowed them with, have gone viral across the globe, as have the investigations and accusations over how this could have happened.

One sideline to all of this from the Wordability perspective is that it has added a little nugget to the English language. I will freely admit to never having heard the term Fap before, but fortunately the Urban Dictionary is on hand to tell me that it is a slang term for masturbation.

Fap has ended up being used to to help create the term to describe this whole affair . The Fappening, a blend of Fap and Happening, has been coined as the catch-all title for this story, and it is now being used across the internet, in headlines and stories, as the key term by which to refer to the scandal. It has stuck because it makes it feel like a carefully stage-managed event, which of course it was. However, I’m sure it is a word that those directly affected by events will not take kindly to, which is perfectly understandable, potentially adding further distress to how they must feel about what has happened.

Fappening is not a word destined for dictionaries or longevity, but will certainly be used when we are summing up 2014 and looking back on the events which shaped the year.

And I am extremely grateful that linguistically, it didn’t follow usual protocol applied to scandals. Fapgate would have sounded so wrong.

Selfies Evolve Into Usies

Selfies have become inescapable over the last few months, and with their ubiquity has come variations concerning among others farmers and bottoms.

Now, the recent trend for selfies involving groups of people has spawned its own word. Usies (pronounced uss-ees) has been coined for the images which have been becoming increasingly prevalent since the famous Ellen DeGeneres shot of Hollywood royalty at the Oscars earlier this year.

Ellen DeGeners' famous Oscar photo

Ellen DeGeneres’ famous Oscar photo

The word was first used last year but is only now coming into consciousness and wasn’t really known when the Oscars took place. However the growing number of shared selfies now means that the need for the word is greater, hence its eventual emergence into more regular usage.

“Usies are a growing trend that I think have far more social value than selfies,” said Michal Ann Strahilevitz, a professor of marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

I actually think Professor Strahilevitz has a point. When I was writing about selfie being named word of the year last year, I was slightly despondent as I felt it described a slightly fractured and narcisstic society, obsessed with self at the cost of community.

While self-promotion is still at the heart of the usie, it is more about the people you are pictured with, the group rather than the individual. Is society moving towards greater unity and community again, rather than an obsession with self? The emergence of a new word is clearly flimsy evidence on which to base such an assertion, but if society does feel more cohesive and joined up in a couple of years’ time, it might be interesting to look back and see whether this linguistic trend really did mark a turning point.

Not the Oxt Big Thing

I read an article recently which suggested a campaign had been started to try and get a new word into the dictionary. So far, so Wordability. But when you realise that campaign started five years ago, then you begin to realise that the its chances of success are pretty remote.

Ivan Cash and Jeremy Knight felt there was an issue with the phrase next weekend. Does it mean the weekend coming up or the one afterwards? How do we cope with this ambiguity without convoluted phrases such as ‘not this weekend but the weekend after’.

To avoid confusion, and to lessen our wasted words, they came up with the word Oxt, defined as above, produced a website and even created this helpful illustration:

Oxt weekend plannerWhile I applaud some of the sentiments on the website, especially the sense of English as a changing entity where new words can take root and flourish, there are a couple of fundamental flaws with Oxt.

The first – well it’s a pretty terrible word. For me, it has absolutely no bearing on what it is meant to mean. In terms of deriving it from other related words, I don’t think it succeeds.

Secondly, it is quite unnecessary. I have managed for years with this weekend and next weekend and frankly, very little need to explain the difference between the two. And if there has been a difference, then explaining it is no big deal. But this can be proved with the definition the creators have come up with. If Oxt weekend is defined as ‘not this weekend but the weekend after’, then that definition only works if ‘this weekend’ is completely understood and unambiguous. And if ‘this weekend’ is unambiguous, then so is ‘next weekend’. So Oxt is unnecessary.

So if this word is five years old, why am I writing about it now. Well Vox picked it up online a couple of weeks ago and wrote about it, and that spawned some follow-ups, with the Guardian undoubtedly the most prominent.

Frankly, I don’t think it matters whether people are writing about it this week, next week or even oxt week. Oxt is not here to stay.