Monthly Archives: March 2012

Marmageddon – You Either Love it or Hate it

There’s a crisis in New Zealand. The country is set to run out of Marmite. And the headline writers have dubbed it ‘Marmageddon’.

In the spirit of the famous spread, you either love or hate this bit of linguistic dexterity. My feelings towards it match my sentiments towards Marmite on toast. Love it.

I think the reason that it works linguistically is because it is knowingly ludicrous and is almost taking the mickey out of itself. Its in-built sense of irony makes it a success. Of course the disappearance of Marmite off supermarket shelves is not a real apocalypse, especially as it will come back this year once the factory damaged in last year’s earthquake is repaired.

But by being called ‘Marmageddon’, the situation not only becomes easy for headline writing but is also immediately defined as lightweight, an ‘and finally’ story for the end of the news that will make everybody smile.

I don’t expect Marmageddon to last for long or to leap Linsanity-like into official lexical recognition. But wouldn’t it be great if it left a legacy of -ageddon suffixes, to be applied to any suitable words engulfed by a catastrophe. The world’s population of Llamas is becoming extinct – Llamageddon, screams the world’s press. Cotton shortages are affecting popular sleepwear – it’s Pyjamageddon.

But it probably wouldn’t work if there was a worldwide ban on the playing of Bananarama records. After all, that would hardly be a crisis.

Abadingding The Thing In The Philippines

I love it when a great word comes from an unexpected source. And I really love it when a word is so pleasing on the ear that you find you keep on wanting to use it. Such a word is Abadingding.

Politics is of course fertile territory for neologisms, and the coining of words to encpsulate specific ideas is a vital tool for getting your message across. So it is in the Philippines, where campaigners are trying everything they can think of to fight against rising fuel prices.

The current subject of their ire is parliamentarian Herminida Abad, who is accused by activists of ignoring demands for her to start deliberations on a number of bills which could bring an end to the increases.

And so the gloriously named fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) has coined Abadingding, defining it as “complete refusal to heed the people’s clamour in the hope it will wither away.”

The group is rather good at coining new words, with this effort coming hot on the heels of Noynoying, their tribute to the apparent inertia of President Beningo ‘Noynoy’ Aquino and defined as “doing nothing even if you have something to do”.

Noynoying is already taking physical form in Philippines, with scores of people brazenly sitting around doing nothing in public places to make a point.

Are these words great examples of lexical inventiveness being used effectively in political campaigning? Absolutely. Will they ever cross the borders of the Philippines to receive international lexical acclamation? Probably not.

But just imagine if a leading politician in the UK or the US ever found themselves accused of Noynoying or Abadingding when they failed to deliver on vital legislation. What a colourful linguistic moment that would be.

Chatterboxing is the New Way to Talk

The advent of Twitter has spawned many Twittish words, but the latest seems to be one of the more bizarre.

Second screens are one of the trendy subjects at the moment in the mobile phone and tablet worlds. This is the idea that while you are in front of the television, you have your second screen on your lap or in your hand and are merrily interacting with it while you watch.

One way that people interact is to chat to others on Twitter about the programme they are viewing, and this social interaction becomes as important to them as the programme itself. And what are they doing? They are chatterboxing.

It’s not clear to me how this word has come about. I think it is more than just taking the well-established word chatterbox and making it into a verb, because that implies excessive talking, and chatterboxing involves no talking at all. Instead, I suspect it could be a play on words, chatting while watching the box, an almost defiantly old-fashioned word to help with a new habit. But however it has come about, it is an activity that will stay and expand, and I suspect the word is here to stay.

Online dictionaries are not yielding definitions at the moment, though they’re soon likely to catch up. Having said that, there is a definition on the Urban Dictionary. It suggests that chatterboxing is “the act of talking shit”.

So it’s pretty accurate then.

Frasier’s Effect on The Special Relationship

David Cameron’s visit to the United States to see Barack Obama has brought the phrase “special relationship” back into the daily news agenda.

It has never actually left since first being coined by Winston Churchill in 1946 to describe the Anglo-US connection, but as it enjoys one of its weeks in the sun, the question inevitably comes up over whether the term is still valid.

The two leaders seem to have been quite keen not to utter the exact phrase, though they did use the words in a different order in a joint article in The Washington Post. Instead, phrases such as “essential relationship” and “rock solid alliance” have been used in speeches instead.

So are we going to witness the birth of a new phrase, a linguistic reimagining of The Special Relationship for the 21st century? In short, I think not. Frankly, so long as relations between the UK and US remain strong, I am not sure that there is a phrase which does the job better. “Special Relationship” captures both strength, affection and the importance each country places on each other in a way that “rock solid alliance” simply doesn’t.

But my feelings about the phrase are jaundiced in a way that may just be limited to me and my wife (hereafter Dr Wordability). Like all married couples, there are certain words and phrases which we use between ourselves which mean little to anybody else.

If we find somebody odd, peculiar in any way or annoying in some respect, we describe them as “special”. We didn’t actually make this up. Again, like many personal linguistic habits, this is derived from television and an episode of Frasier called The Dinner Party. With Frasier and Niles suffering torment as their carefully planned dinner party slowly unravels, Frasier asks his father Martin, “Dad, do you think we’re odd.”

After a pause, Martin replies: “No, you’re not odd. You’re just special.” (You can watch the moment on this clip, it comes at three minutes 50:)

So armed with this, what do you think of the phrase “The Special Relationship” now? If either leader describes the other as “Special”, do they mean it in the context of more than 70 years of cordiality? Or have they just been watching a sitcom?

Cyberchondria and Babe Magnets Come of Age

I read about a word this week and got very excited about writing about it. An article in London’s Evening Standard, about people self-diagnosing themselves on the internet, started with the line: “I have learned a new word this week: cyberchondria”.

Fantastic, I thought, your new word must be my new word, and what a great word it is. Except that the writer and I were both behind the times.

It turns out that cyberchondria has been around since the turn of the century. It appears to have debuted in 2001, with the BBC website writing about it, while by 2003 it had been discussed in The British Medical Journal.

So why am I writing about it, I hear you ask. You just write about brand new words and usages, and this is patently not new, so go and find something else. Well that’s true, but it seems that the wheels of the Oxford English Dictionary move a great deal slower than the wheels of Wordability.

I am writing about it because the OED has just announced the details of the latest quarterly update to its online dictionary, and guess what its headline is. Correct! Cyberchondriac has now been added to the dictionary.

Now I know that the OED has specific criteria for including a word in its dictionary, relating to length of time, frequency and breadth of use and an almost unquantifiable sense of currency, meaning that people don’t have to explain it when they use it. But I do wonder whether they are sometimes taking a bit too long to introduce things.

Wordability has recently written about Tebowing and Linsanity, both of which are already recognised by the Global Language Monitor as words because of their massive usage. Surely then, they should have been included in this OED update as they clearly meet all the criteria required for a new word, as discussed above. But they are not yet there, and it is impossible to say how long it might take for them to appear. And I will also be keeping an eye out for Ineptocracy, which is by some distance the most searched term on Wordability.

Cyberchondria is one of a number of words that I feel should have been included long ago. Others include: babe magnet, a man who is very attractive to women; vodcast, in effect a video podcast; and unspellable, which sounds like it has been around forever.

The OED is the ultimate arbiter of language and of course it has to be absolutely certain about a word’s validity before it will include it. Its quarterly updates allow it to respond to changes in language on an ongoing basis. But the speed with with words are consistently exploding around the world makes me think that their road to official acceptance is going to have to become shorter.

Brogrammers Making Computing Cool

There is a cliched image of computer programmers. It involves words such as geek or nerd, and images of quiet and bespectacled individuals sitting in corners, headphones plugged in, reams of code spiralling down the screen in front of them.

But no more. It seems there is a new breed of computer whizz, cooler and with attitude. These coding experts can drink heavily and party with the best of them, but they still work hard. And they are not programmers. They are Brogrammers.

The word, bringing the “bro” greeting together with “programmer”, is now beginning to gain currency across the internet, and there is a burgeoning Facebook group with more than 22,000 members. But it is not universally popular, with others criticising the term¬†and worrying that it will make a male-dominated profession even harder for women to break into. And they argue that it is a terrible word.

Is it terrible? Well it is funny, and I can see it catching on in a niche way. However, the accusation of it being sexist is entirely valid. It could end up growing as a kind of polarising term for different kinds of coders, rather than as the joke that it clearly is now. Nevertheless, I think it is here to stay, for a time at least.

But I am much more entertained by the linguistic possibilities that it suggests for the future. What if we could apply this subtle change to a number of other words? Just think, we could have:

  • Advancing in your career while partying – Bromotion
  • Sleeping with a really cool guy – Brocreation
  • Dietary supplements taken by heavy drinkers – Brobiotics

I’d better stop now. You’ll soon be needing Brotection from any more of this nonsense.

Why Horsegate Should Ride Away

It must be obvious by now just how much I admire the English language and its regular diet of new words. But even I have my limits.

So what has promoted my ire? It’s very simple. It’s Horsegate. It’s the ‘scandal’ over the retired police horse cared for by Rebekah Brooks and subsequently ridden by David Cameron. The whole equine fiasco has been dubbed ‘horsegate’ by the media and the social media world.

And I hate it! Not the story, which is of course fascinating, amusing and worrying in almost equal measures. No, I hate the way that every vaguely salacious or scandalous story which hits the news and lasts for longer than about 20 minutes automatically receives a ‘-gate’ at the end of it as a word by which it will be referred to for evermore.

It’s lazy. It’s cliched. But above all, it offends my linguistic sensibilities. It is derived, of course, from the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. This has led to the belief that you can borrow the gate from the building where it took place and simply append it to anything. And it’s plain wrong. There is nothing inherent in the word ‘gate’ that means anything to do with scandal. Imagine if the Nixon scandal had centred around the Waterfish building, we’d all be discussing the horsefish story now.

Now I know what you’re thinking. I have continually espoused a theory of language growing and evolving, of words taking on new meanings, and if gate has grown to be imbued with scandal-related meaning when used as a suffix, surely I should applaud that, that is what language does. But on this occasion, I am going to stick to my guns. I think it is ugly and unnecessary. A glance down Wikipedia’s list of ‘gate’ usages convinces me I am right, so ludicrous are many of the entries. I think Fajitagate and Toiletgate are possibly the pick of an appalling bunch.

I love the ever-changing nature of English. But this constant neologism is almost scandalous. It’s just that you’ll never hear me refer to it as languagegate.