Monthly Archives: January 2012

Let’s Get Physible!

New technology always breeds new words. So I wonder if this one will catch on.

One of the newest developments in technology is the 3D printer. This device does exactly what you would expect it to, namely it takes a data file and ‘prints’ the object out as a physical item. OK, you wouldn’t have expected to be able to ‘print’ a doll or a shoe in your own home five years ago, but that’s progress for you.

So far, there hasn’t been a catch-all name for objects that you can create in this way. Until now, that is.

The Pirate Bay, an infamous piracy and file-sharing website, has now started hosting suitable files on its website, and has created a new category for them. It has dubbed them ‘Physibles’.

Will this word stick? In some senses, it already has. The Pirate Bay announcement has picked up coverage that is beginning to extend beyond the technology blogs. All are using the word ‘physible’, albeit in inverted commas. So it may not be long before the punctuation disappears and physible become the standard word for these files.

Except. The Pirate Bay has long been unpopular with makers of films and music for facilitating the illegal downloading and sharing of material. Model makers such as Games Workshop are already angered by the physible development as it could harm sales of their models.

So will the technology world allow the Pirate Bay to take linguistic ownership of this burgeoning development, or will someone on the more legitimate side of the fence suggest an alternative? This is a technology in need of a name. The question is whether the Pirate Bay’s Physible will be allowed to prevail.

Tebowing Sets Benchmark for Sporting Gestures

The rise of Tebowing has been a linguistic phenomenon. Despite its global sweep, I forgive my UK readers for not quite knowing what I’m talking about. But it’s a great tale of how new words become fixed in English. So let me explain.

On October 23, the Denver Broncos enjoyed a dramatic 18-15 victory over the Miami Dolphins in the NFL. As wild celebrations ensued, star quarterback Tim Tebow was seen at the side of the pitch, down on one knee and and in prayer. So far, so comparatively normal.

Local fan Jared Kleinstein spotted the moment and persuaded a few of his friends to pose in similar vein to celebrate the victory. The picture was duly posted to Facebook. Immediately, people started to ‘like’ the image, and an international smash hit was born.

The tebowing blog followed soon afterwards, liberally filled with people ‘tebowing’ in ever more extravagant places. And by December, ‘tebowing’ was officially recognised as a word by the Global Language Monitor, defining it as the the act of ’taking a knee’ in prayerful reflection in the midst of an athletic activity. It is surely one of the quickest rises to linguistic acceptance of any word and is now an international fad.

So why has this word taken off? I think its success has a lot to do with the silliness which surrounds much of what we enjoy on the Internet. We have all seen and enjoyed countless viral pictures and jokes, via Facebook, email and other methods, and we enjoy them for their absurdity. But for true success,there has to be more. And this can quite often be the ability to personalise and participate.

So it is with tebowing, because its global surge is very little to do with the initial action by the player himself and much more to do with what people did with it. The fact that people could take part, show themselves as active participants in the phenomenon rather than merely observers, gave it its viral oomph. We are all part of the joke, we can all join in, so the word which describes what we are all doing needs to become established quickly because it confirms that we all belong to something official and legitimate.

It is also an action which is easy to replicate, in any place. I found myself thinking through famous goal celebrations of the past. Certain players always celebrated in the same way, but because they were from a different era and because they were not easy to reproduce anywhere in the world, they could never spawn their own word. Thus, running very fast with one arm up will never be known as ‘Shearering’, and running with one arm windmilling madly beside you is only ‘Channoning’ as far as I am concerned.

The final question for linguists is whether tebowing is here to stay, or whether its run as a fully-fledged word is for a single season. But even if it is consigned to the linguistic dustbin almost as quickly as it arrived, we should all go down on one knee and give thanks for a fabulous illustration of how well new words can explode in the English Language.

Banish Blue Monday – Vote for Wordability

What is it with colours and days? Towards the end of last year, we had Black Friday, a shopping day tradition from America which is now spreading around the world. And thanks to the influence of a mobile phone company, we all know that the busiest days at the cinema are Orange Wednesdays.

And so to the most depressing day of the year, which is rapidly coming to an end as I write this. According to scientists, the third Monday is awarded this dubious accolade because of the combination of post-Christmas depression, bills and gloomy weather. Welcome to “Blue Monday”.

The date of Blue Monday is calculated according to a special and complex formula devised by psychologist Cliff Arnall. Its slightly nonsensical nature probably explains why it is not a naming convention that has really caught on – after all, you probably only really know that Blue Monday is almost over because I just told you. And apparently Dr Arnall now believes that Blue Monday should be called Red Monday to mark the influence of our increasing economic woes. If the expert behinds the day isn’t even convinced of the name any more, what hope for the rest of us.

It just goes to show that naming something to try and define it is not always a guarantee of getting it to seep into public consciousness.

Of course, if you have been suffering from Blue Monday-itis, good news is at hand. Wordability has been nominated in the Best Blog category in the Macmillan Love English awards 2011. So why don’t you follow this link and vote for Wordability – it will help to lift those January blues!

Who’s Been Looking in my Wardrobe?

You have to love the Urban Dictionary. It’s a website made up of definitions submitted by users to reflect the way they speak, with scant regard for whether the words and phrases suggested will ever pass the test of the lexicographer.

Their daily ‘word of the day’ e-mail is a mixture of the bizarre, the hilarious and the sometimes obscene. But what I didn’t expect was that one day, it would feature a definition related to my wardrobe.

So I give you the word of the day for January 10 – Hugh Wear. Hugh Wear is defined as ‘The name for a person’s extensive wardrobe of bath robes’. Frankly, I’m flummoxed. I only have one. And it hangs on a door. Surely somebody has defined this word incorrectly, surely it should have been ‘A language expert’s collection of slightly frayed shirts’.

I did wonder whether Hugh Wear was an Urban Dictionary original or a term which had gained internet notoriety. But it seems not. It is a new line of clothing, celebrating the country and the old West. Nothing to do with me, I don’t even own a stetson. There is also a gun shop in Kentucky, and a an Illinois resident who was born in 1841. He had five children, so maybe he had lots of bath robes knocking around the place.

Sadly, I am not sure I will be able to find a suitable explanation for this trend. Just have to go out and buy a dressing gown, I guess.

Change Leads the Change in Election Language

Lovers of new words will have been delighted to see the success that Rick Santorum had in the Iowa caucuses this week. But while the former senator will have been equally pleased at making a good start in the lengthy journey to the White House, he will not want to be reminded about his contribution to neologisms.

In 2003, Mr Santorum made some comments in an interview which were viewed as anti-gay. Shortly afterwards, gay rights activist Dan Savage wrote about the remarks and was encouraged by a reader to launch a competition to find a new sexual definition for Santorum in order to forever associate the politician with his remarks.

There were more than 3,000 entries and the final result, which I won’t repeat here for readers of a delicate disposition but can be found here, is still the top item which comes out when you search for ‘Santorum’ on Google.

It’s certain that Mr Santorum would not have wanted this in people’s minds when he plotted his assault on the presidency, and frankly, it would have been the kind of thing that could have been dismissed as old trivia. Until Mr Santorum contacted Google in September 2011 and asked them to remove the offending website from their indexes. And Google, predictably, said no. Well done Mr Santorum, that certainly helped people to forget about the issue.

Wordability finds this tale interesting on two counts. Firstly, it is unusual to actually solicit a new meaning for a word – these things tend to evolve naturally, so the competition aspect of this quest is refreshingly different.

The second reason is more to do with politics, and specifically American election politics. Wordability will be following the US election year with great interest to see which words emerge as the dominant ones. Politicians everywhere, but especially in the United States, are masters at changing the nuances of a particular word and repeatedly using it during a campaign to subtly influence the mindset of voters.

The Republican party are regarded as formidable masters of this skill. For example, before 2004, you might have been forgiven for thinking that a flip-flop was not much more than some fairly flimsy footwear that you would wear to the beach. But the Republicans noticed how Democrat candidate John Kerry had a habit of changing his mind on key issues, and the notion of Kerry and the flip-flop was born. The potency of that one word was a key part of the ultimately successful campaign against him, and received widespread coverage.

You might also think that the word ‘liberal’ is not necessarily a bad one and simply suggests an even-minded and tolerant approach to the issues. Yet in the United States, it has become a term that means quite left wing and prone to overspending Government money, and Republican politicians use it as a word with which to savage their Democrat adversaries.

But with the Democrats dominating the 2008 election, it was no surprise that a word from that campaign not only helped the Barack Obama victory campaign but was also the most significant word of the year. That word was ‘change’.

The subtle shift in meaning that the Obama campaign achieved was actually quite stunning. Of course, any politician campaigning to unseat a rival party is going to be preaching a message of change. ‘Vote for me, I’m exactly the same as the other guy’ is a surefire way of making sure that other guy wins.

But what the now-president did was to make ‘change’ something so much more than just ‘something different’. It became a potent word meaning not only a break from the current situation but also a golden and more rosy future, that the change that was coming was a better life, a greater life, a life to which we all aspire. No matter that he did not have to define how this change would be achieved, no problem that offering change is quite clearly the most obvious thing that any politician should do. No, all he had to do was keep on offering this mystical ‘change’ to all who were listening, and the quite hypnotic effect it had on voters propelled him to victory.

One caucus in, we are a long way off knowing who will be taking on the incumbent later this year and of course we have no idea who will be inaugurated in January 2013. But we can say that lovers of political language change will certainly be winners, as we wait to see what linguistic dexterity the next 10 months will bring. Let the battle commence.