Monthly Archives: February 2012

Donald Trump Symblomatic of Changing Language

I think my language antennae have had an off day. I’d seen reports claiming that Donald Trump had coined a new word, yet when I read it, I was convinced that he’d done nothing of the sort.

Speaking about the Oscars, and specifically the Vanity Fair party, he described it as boring and “symblomatic” of what was happening at the magazine overall.

Fine, I thought, symblomatic means ‘acting as a symbol of something’, and is a perfectly well-known word. Googling it found a few sporadic uses from the last few years.

But is it a real word? No. Is it in any dictionaries? No. Is it likely to be in dictionaries any time soon? Well, on that one, you never know. I think it is actually quite a useful word and can’t currently think of a viable alternative.

But then again, that could just be symblomatic of the fact that my language antennae are having a really bad day.

(The ‘symblomatic’ moment is at about one minute, 13 seconds. I’m sure Mr Trump won’t mind if you keep the sound turned down prior to that moment).

The problem with Linsanity

I have a problem with Linsanity. But before I get lynched by legions of Jeremy Lin fans, let me elaborate. Because my problem is purely linguistic.

For readers outside the US, and those that aren’t fans of basketball, I should supply a bit of background. In early February, Jeremy Lin was given a starting opportunity by the New York Knicks in an NBA clash against the New Jersey Nets. The 23-year-old had had an uninspiring career to this point, but when finally given a chance, he scored 25 points to inspire the Knicks to victory. And it didn’t stop there as he embarked on a phenomenal scoring run, averaging more than 27 points in four matches. Add in the fact that he is of Taiwanese descent, making him the first such American-born player to compete in the NBA, and the story’s global appeal starts to make sense.

And the word that appeared and came to encapsulate the Jeremy Lin success story – Linsanity.

I have been pondering this for the last few days and trying to work out why, on a new word level, Linsanity had been making me feel ambivalent. And my feelings of uncertainty only increased as Linsanity flooded the internet and reports started emerging that it is already an early contender in some quarters for word of the year. UPDATE – And since writing this paragraph, the Global Language Monitor has now officially recognised Linsanity as a word, making it one of the quickest rises from nowhere to linguistic status on record.

So what are my issues? Well firstly, it only seemed to be a word for headlines, a shorthand way of referring to the phenomenon before leading into a written piece which didn’t use it again. But that is now fading, and Linsanity is breaking out from its headline-only role.

Then there was the sense that it was quite limited in scope. Linsanity covers one person at one time, and cannot be extended to mean anything else. And unlike Tebowing, the previous linguistic sports phenomenon, it can only be used in reference to the Jeremy Lin story and not for something wider which other people can also take part in.

Finally, there was the feeling that the word’s emergence will be short-lived. Linsanity has only been around for three weeks, at time of writing. In another three weeks, it could be a distant memory, meaning it would then only be used in a historical sense.

But despite all of this, I have managed to put my doubts to one side. If Linsanity does end up winning word of the year garlands at the end of 2012, I think it will be a worthy winner.

And why have I concluded that? Because you could probably have argued all of the above for Beatlemania when that emerged as a word back in 1963. It was first coined as a shorthand way of describing the group’s appeal, it was limited in scope to the Beatles themselves and it died away as the Beatles’ popularity became more normal. And despite that, Beatlemania is an excellent word.

Above all, it looks like the Jeremy Lin story will be one of the major sports talking points of 2012. It needs a word to encapsulate it. And Linsanity does that perfectly.

Nomophobia and the Fear of Language Failure

Two thirds of us live in fear of being without our mobile phones, a new survey has said. It seems that as a nation, we are suffering from nomophobia.

Yes, that really is nomophobia, derived from ‘no-mobile-phobia’ and meaning ‘the fear of being out of mobile phone contact’.

OK, many of us worry about losing our phones. I certainly do. I worry about putting it somewhere and not knowing where it is, or someone stealing it, or dropping it down the toilet (loomophobia?). But to attempt to give this a name that implies it is a mental condition, that you could get treatment for it, no, this seems a step too far.

You could be forgiven for thinking this is a brand new word, dreamt up in the last week by a PR agent desperate to get coverage for a story about a new mobile application that makes your phone grow legs and chase after you so you are never out of contact.

But no. It turns out that nomophobia is nearly four years old, and dates from a Post Office survey of 2008 about mobile phone usage. The word was coined at the time. But it is not in dictionaries, you will struggle to find an online meaning for it, and it is only being heard now because it has been reused in a fresh survey which pretty much rehashes what was said four years ago.

So what does this tell us from a language point of view? Broadly, a word will not catch on if it is not covering a semantic gap. The world has not been crying out for a word to describe fear of losing a mobile, it sounds like a gimmicky word created to support a story, and therefore it didn’t stick the first time. In addition, it’s not a very good word, because it is not immediately obvious what it means when you hear it. When I first heard the word, I thought it might be fear of small red-hatted creatures standing at the bottom of your garden.

I strongly suspect that nomophobia will disappear from consciousness as quickly as it reappeared this week, and may only resurface to feature in a list of the most annoying words of the year.

Mitt Romney and the Dirty Side of Politics

Remember Rick Santorum? He’s the Presidential candidate in the United States whose name was redefined by gay rights campaigners because of homophobic remarks he had made in the past.

Well Rick’s not the only one now. Front-runner Mitt Romney is now finding himself in a similar situation, as Google searches for his name start to show the same pattern. The Spreading Romney website is not yet topping all searches for Mr Romney’s name, but its presence could prove something of an embarrassment.

It seems that in 1983, Mr Romney and his family embarked on a 12-hour journey to Canada with their dog strapped to the roof in a special travel box. After a few hours, the Romneys discovered that the poor dog had suffered an uncontrolled bowel movement. The would-be president got out of the car, hosed the dog down, and then left it on the roof for the remainder of the journey.

Hence the new definition of Romney – “to defecate in terror”.

The site was created by 28-year-old Jack Shepler from Indianapolis, who said he wanted to draw attention to the incident. It seems he is not after a new definition for the dictionary, and it seems unlikely that people who suffer extreme moments of terror allied to stomach cramps will be saying “I was so scared I Romneyed” any time soon.

But the power of associating a name with a single definition does seem to be a growing trend in the political game in the United States, and the more that people coin these definitions and associate the protagonists with distinct ideas, then the more those ideas might stick. There is already a search on for what Newt Gingrich’s name might mean at the Spreading Gingrich website.

Incidentally, the growth of the Spreading Romney website comes as German linguists announce the winner of their Anglicism of the Year award. They felt that the English word that has made the best contribution to the German language over the last 12 months is “Sh*tstorm”, defining it as “a public outcry, primarily on the Internet, in which arguments mix with threats and insults to reach a critical mass, forcing a reaction”.

All over the world, there is a degree of crap driving language change.

Will Woyomism Spread Across The World?

If you are a regular reader of Wordability, the chances are that you have never heard of Alfred Agbesi Woyome. But if you are reading this in Ghana, you will know all about him.

Woyome is currently on trial in Ghana, accused of defrauding the country’s Government out of more than 50 million Ghanian Cedi (GHC). It’s a high profile case and is duly getting lots of coverage.

So why should Wordability be interested? Well, the case has prompted an outburst of new words, especially across social media. Using Woyome as a basis to mean a systematic attempt to defraud a country, a whole raft of words are now cropping up across the internet. These include:

Woyomics: The art of using fake documents to acquire a gargantuan money

Woyometicable: A system that can easily be Woyomised

Woyometrics: The science of calculating a huge sum of money obtained woyomecally.

Woyomee: Someone who has been Woyomised or a person who has suffered as a result of Woyome issue

Woyomer: A person using Woyomic strategy to acquire a gargantuan money from the state or Someone who Woyomises people.

Will these catch on outside Ghana? Possibly not, but with the interconnected world we now live in, it is a reminder that changes to the English language can come from any country, at any time.

And if you do start to hear the term in regular conversation, remember where you read about it first.

Is Ineptocracy the Future of Government?

Writing in the Guardian this week, sketch writer Simon Hoggart claimed that Labour MP Paul Flynn had invented a new word. He wrote: “11.55: Paul Flynn coins new word for what the coalition has created: “An ineptocracy of greed.” Won’t catch on.”

Unfortunately for Mr Hoggart, he was wrong on two counts. Firstly, Mr Flynn didn’t coin the word. And secondly, it already has.

Ineptocracy has been around very fleetingly for at least 10 years, but seems to have picked up a head of steam towards the end of 2011 and is now starting to increase in usage both in blogs and on Twitter.

It is not yet in any official dictionaries but is being defined by users as “A system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.” Other, simpler definitions, suggest it is simply a ruling government which is incompetent.

It is certainly gaining traction in the United States, and Googling “ineptocracy obama” yields quite a number of results, suggesting that opponents are beginning to fix on the word as a way of encapsulating their negativity towards his presidency.

Mr Flynn is possibly the first person to be using the word in the UK, and always in relation to the Coalition. As well as his mention this week, he also write a blog last October called Building the Ineptocracy, but it seems he was responding to the growing usage of it from across the Atlantic and wanted to see if he could tie the current UK Government into it.

So will ineptocracy stick? There are factors against that. On a prosaic level, it is difficult to say and even to spell. I find I keep stopping to think about it as I type this piece. The fact that it doesn’t easily trip off tongue or keyboard may limit its growth. It may also be limited because it sounds quite specialised and a word owned by political writers and experts.

But I can see it growing as a shorthand way for bloggers and commentators to describe what they see as failed governments, so I can see ineptocracy gaining some official dictionary recognition later this year. And if a campaigning politician should pick up on it and throw it into a speech, then that validation will be very rapid indeed.

Swapportunity Knocks for New Word

Let’s get one thing straight from the outset – Swapportunity is not a recognised word. But is its status about to change?

Swapportunity’s current emergence is an advertising executive’s dream. The word features in an American commercial for yoghurt company Yoplait. The ad revolves around an earnest boy taking part in a spelling bee and shows his horror when he is asked to spell the word ‘Swapportunity’. His ire is not helped when he is told that it is defined as “The opportunity to swap a higher calorie snack for a delicious Yoplait Light”. Affronted, he protests that it is not a real word. It’s very funny, and worth a look:

Clearly, swapportunity will not catch on as a genuine word if its definition is tied up with low calorie yoghurts. But it does have a chance as a more generic word, meaning the opportunity to swap something.

Now I know that this isn’t a yawning chasm of meaning crying out for a word to encapsulate it. But there is evidence that it is being used. An Atlanta fashion event, The Ultimate Swapportunity, has just taken place. Musician website The Gear Page has discussed using it to create a market for musicians to trade instruments. And there are isolated examples from the last couple of years to show that this linguistic innovation has been on the margins, with a Forbes piece about corporate bonds being the most high brow.

So while swapportunity will not be appearing in dictionaries in the next few weeks, I think it has a chance of not only growing online but also being used at trading events. I am sure it is an opportunity it would not want to swap.