Category Archives: Politics

How politicians invent new words or repurpose existing ones to try and win the political argument

Will De-Americanization Lead To Chinafication?

If history teaches us anything, it is that the world order changes over time, and yesterday’s superpower is today’s underling. And as we get deeper into the 21st century, so the growing influence of China reminds us that the world in 100 years’ time may have a very different structure of influence to that which exists at present.

So it is interesting to see a linguistic nod in that direction emerging from Chinese sources. The Xinhua news agency published an opinion piece on the US Government shutdown, and posed the question of whether it was time to prepare for a “De-Americanized” world.

It’s not for Wordability to analyse the political and economic arguments surrounding this article, nor to comment on the myriad responses that the piece has garnered. Instead, I simply comment on the amount of attention this has drawn, the number of times the word de-Americanized, or de-Americanization, has now been used in response, and congratulate the Chinese author on coining a simple but effective term to really kick-start the debate and encapsulate the essence of the issue.

This demonstrates once again that in the field of political altercation, the side that comes out on top is sometimes the one that find the right term and defines the debate by controlling the language of the headlines. As the years move on, we may see de-Americanization becoming increasingly used as a term, and it may become the standard word for describing how power is shifting halfway round the world.

Americanization features in all major online dictionaries to mean making something American in character . Its newly-formed antonym will have to wait its turn to take its place. But as it gains acceptance, I wonder if a Chinese equivalent of Americanization will start to be used. Chinafication anybody?

Brexit Should Head For The Exit

I thought I was joking last year when I speculated on where Greece’s possible departure from the Eurozone might take the English language. Silly me.

While Grexit flourished as the buzzword for what Greece might do, I didn’t really think that linguistic development around the word ‘Exit’ was here to stay. But Brexit has changed all of that.

Brexit, referring to the United Kingdom’s possible abandonment of the European Union, enjoyed isolated appearances in 2012 but has really jumped to the forefront for headline writes and commentators in the last few days, as David Cameron girds himself to speak about where the country sits in relation to Europe and prepares people for some sort of referendum.

So what to make of this new form of word creation? Clearly it has gone beyond the specifics of leaving the Eurozone, as the UK’s connection is related to the whole EU. And while there remains a European connection, it is easy to see this type of formation now spreading its tentacles towards other types of exit.

Of course, accuracy isn’t everything. The debate is over the United Kingdom leaving the EU, not Britain, but frankly, Ukexit doesn’t cut it as a new word, while at least Brexit sounds like a word, even if it jars somewhat.

But the only way we will really know if this is here to stay is if it moves away from the corridors of Brussels. If Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction were to be reduced to ”Ursinexit’, then we will have confirmation that exit rule has made an entrance that is here to stay.

:: Don’t forget that Eastwooding With the Mother Flame: The Words of 2012 is still available for Kindle or in paperback. Click here for more information.

Don’t Fall Over The Fiscal Cliff

There is a late entrant in the word of the year stakes. More likely, there is a front-runner for the 2013 crown. It is becoming hard to avoid the Fiscal Cliff.

The Fiscal Cliff is a term that has been coined to describe a looming financial precipice in the United States. It is a confluence of coming togethers of the end of certain tax laws and a decrease in Government spending, and commentators are worried about the effect on the US economy if legislation is not passed which could prevent all of this from happening.

Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, is being credited with coining the phrase, having used it in evidence to the House Financial Services Commission at the end of February. He actually isn’t the first, as it appeared in analysis of George Bush’s tax cuts two years after the end of his presidency. But there is no doubt that Mr Bernanke’s usage put the term on the linguistic map.

That said, it is only in the last few weeks that it has found its way into general conversation and started appearing in earnest across the media. Given that the fiscal cliff is just around the corner, that is not really a surprise.

Maybe what is a surprise is that the term has simply been accepted and is being used by everybody, probably without really understanding it. I feel the same way about it as I did about haircut entering the vernacular last year – a term that was popular among economic commentators crossed over into the mainstream and using it seemed to confer some kind of special, inside knowledge on the users, it is almost said with a nod and a wink to those also on the inside.

For the rest of us, we hear it and then have to go and look it up and try and understand it. Shorthand phrases are good for encapsulating stories and letting everybody know what the subject is, but when they are used regularly in conversation as if everybody knows what they mean, then that can become annoying.

Thank goodness the Simpsons have been around to help explain it.

Romnesia: The Key Word of 2012 Campaign?

Regular readers of Wordability will know just how much I love Mitt Romney. And no, that is not a political statement at all, merely an acknowledgement of how many times linguistic issues seem to have followed him around during this lengthy election campaign.

But does the campaign finally have the new word that will prove decisive? I wrote at the start of the year about how individual words have the power to win elections, with Change helping to lead Barack Obama to glory four years ago.

So far in 2012, no word has quite emerged as decisive. Mr Romney has tried, but Obamaloney was poor. Instead, he has constantly found himself at the mercy of linguistic disasters not of his own making, while phrases like 47% and Binders Full of Women have dogged him.

And now, it looks like the President has cracked it. In a speech in Virginia, Mr Obama characterised his opponent’s ability to change his mind and position on key issues as ‘Romnesia’.

And it worked. The crowd loved it. More importantly, the Twitter crowd loved it. It trended madly on the network immediately, and has quickly established itself as a hashtag to be appended to anything even vaguely anti-Republican.

It’s a great neologism. It makes you think of Romney. It makes you think of forgetting. And it encapsulates the character flaw that Mr Obama wants to draw attention to. It could do for this election what flip-flop did for George Bush against John Kerry by becoming the word which crystallises the campaign and leads to eventual victory.

Have I overstated this? It’s hard to say. In the minds of the undecided voters, one new word can stick. And finding that key new word which is never forgotten could ultimately make the difference.

Mission Imborisable? Nothing’s Impossible

There is no ignoring Boris Johnson. The Mayor of London, feted by many as a future Prime Minister, has stolen the headlines with a pair of appearances at the Tory party conference in Birmingham.

At the start of his first appearance on Monday night, he was prefaced by a video celebrating his re-election as London head honcho earlier this year. The video was preface by the caption ‘Mission Imborisable’.

A headline writer’s dream? Absolutely. An attempt to get a new word into the dictionary? Absolutely not. And yet…

As Boris coverage increases, and if stories about him and Downing Street continue to be written, the temptation to carry on using Imborisable in connection with any tale of Johnson-esque derring-do may prove irresistible to sub-editors up and down the land.

So while I do not see a future in which the OED features a word loosely defined as ‘an unlikely achievement by Boris Johnson’, I do think this is a word that will be around as a piece of political shorthand for the foreseeable future. And that is already an Imborisable achievement.

Eastwooding Makes My Linguistic Day

It would have been easy to assume that when Clint Eastwood was lined up to speak at the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney might have been sitting back and looking forward to to the positive publicity glow which the grizzled actor’s words would bathe him in.

Alas, no. This is Mitt Romney we are talking about, Wordability’s unlikely folk hero, and a man dogged by linguistic disaster wherever he treads.

And so it is with Clint. His ringing endorsement is being remembered not for the positive words he spoke about Mr Romney, but about the bizarre scene he acted out when he accosted an invisible Barack Obama, who was represented by an empty chair. And so, Eastwooding was born.

As Tebowing before it, so images are swamping the internet of people pointing at, basically, empty chairs. They are Eastwooding. The word is sweeping across the globe, and is rapidly gaining in usage.

Will it last beyond the week? Unlikely, and if it does, only until election time in a couple of months. Is it the word for which Clint would want to be remembered? Definitely not. And as for Mr Romney? He will be hoping that come debate time, Mr Obama remembers to turn up. He wouldn’t want to be Eastwooding live on national television.

Is Romney Hood A Case of Obamaloney?

I think Mitt Romney has been reading Wordability. The Republican candidate for the US Presidency has featured on these cyber pages a disproportionate amount of times in the last few weeks, so has clearly decided that if I am going to write about him, he had better actively coin a new word rather than have one made for him.

And so is born Obamaloney. Now non-Wordability fans will conclude that Mr Romney is looking for a word with which to attack the president, and feels that this neologism sums up the idea that Mr Obama’s attacks on him are full of nonsense, or baloney, to borrow the vernacular.

Others might contend that he came up with the word to counter Romney Hood, the Obama language attack which seeks to characterise his tax plans as stealing from the poor to benefit the rich.

But of course, they would be wrong. Mr Romney was keen for some positive coverage on Wordablity, and so he got into the world of coining new words in order to curry favour with me.

The problem? The word has to be good. It has to trip off the tongue. It has to be obvious what it means. And does Obamaloney succeed in any of this? Er, no.

Another fine Romneyshambles then.

Another Fine Shambles For Romney

Mitt Romney is rapidly emerging as Wordability’s most unlikely hero. Who knew! He has already charmed us with his caring attitude towards his dog, and delighted us by not knowing the name of the country he is trying to lead.

Now, as he winds his gaffe-strewn way across the globe, to ensure that everyone knows exactly who he is before November’s election, he might be wishing he had stayed at home. His questioning of London’s readiness and enthusiasm for the Olympics, followed by increasingly desperate attempts to limit the damage, rapidly saw his trip labelled a Romneyshambles.

It’s wonderful to see a clever neologism like this making some headway, building as it does on Omnishambles’ re-emergence into public consciousness earlier this year. In a single word, the would-be president’s efforts are distilled, summed up and spat out, and it satisfies every opponent’s desire for a linguistic stick with which they can beat him.

Mr Romney must have thought his surname made him pun-proof. Who knew!

The Latest Word on Gay Marriage

Gay marriage is a hot political topic like never before. US President Barack Obama has backed it, individual American states are embroiled in legislation over it, while across the pond, David Cameron’s UK coalition is consulting on allowing it.

From a language point of view, the issue is fascinating. Because one of its side effects is to spawn a plethora of debate over the status of the word marriage itself.

It is important to remember just how important words are where marriage is concerned. It is one of those rare things in life where simply saying some words can effect a tangible change in somebody’s status as a person. So long as location and celebrant are approved, the act of listening to certain words and then saying “I do” moves someone from the status of being single to being married. Words enact the change.

So the use of the word marriage itself has to be important. Googling the question “Does there need to be a new word for marriage” brings up a range of debates and articles, with suggestions such as Holy Matrimony, Sanctirage or Garriage finding their way onto the internet.

But all of these miss the point. By trying to introduce new words for marriage, any sense of equality is immediately lost. If gay marriage becomes more and more accepted, calling it something else will still make it be perceived as something else, and the very way it is referred to will confer a sense that it is not equal. The current debate on Twitter, where the hashtag #gaymarriage is prevalent, makes the point. A number of people are pointing out that this hash tag gives a sense that #gaymarriage is a different type of marriage, and surely it should just be called marriage. So I think the quest for a different name is a way for people to undermine the very idea of this kind of union and strip it of its legitimacy by calling it something else.

Much more reasoned is the idea that dictionaries themselves will have to redefine marriage as a union between two people, and not a union between a man and a woman. Ben Zimmer of the Visual Thesaurus has written an excellent account of the history of the word’s definitions, and I commend it as vital background on this subject.

It is clear that this debate is going to run and run. It will only be over when the term Gay Marriage itself has been consigned to history.

Is Amercia the Key to American Victory?

The power of single words can be the difference between election victory and defeat in the United States. At the start of election year, Wordability considered which words would emerge as the key ones during 2012. But nobody could have predicted that word may prove to be a typo.

But so it is for confirmed Republican candidate Mitt Romney. To celebrate his nomination, his campaign team released their ‘With Mitt’ iPhone app, a chance to append one of 14 pre-written slogans to a picture and then use social media to share the picture and spread the message.

Well the team behind it got one thing right – the power of social media to spread ideas is unsurpassed. The problem comes when the thing that you are spreading is a cock-up. Or in this case, the inability of a campaign team to correctly spell the name of the country their man is trying to govern. Because one of the slogans promised ‘A Better Amercia’.

The hasty re-release of the app, and the assurances by the team that it was one of those things, completely misses the point. The internet had already seized on the gaffe, Twitter went #amercia crazy, blogs were set up in its name as Amercia jokes mushroomed across our interconnected globe. All of which serves to not only confirm the power of social media to get a message across but reinforced Wordability’s contention that individual words have the power to shape a debate and a campaign.

It may well be that this is just a passing story which will be forgotten by next week. But there is a chance it may not, and that instead, the single word Amercia will be drip fed out by opponents, commentators and satirists as the perfect reference point if they want to attack Mr Romney. It could easily become the word that defines the campaign because it will call up so many associations, ideas and sly giggles simply by being dropped into conversation. Just saying that one word will prove to be enough to make a point.

It has already proved to be more lasting in people’s minds than any official slogans. Barack Obama is using the single word Forward as his campaign slogan for 2012, but it seems not to have resonated at all, and certainly not in the way that simply saying ‘Change’ four years ago was enough to turn his supporters into a quivering mass.

The most delicious irony of all in the Romney affair is that it occurred in the same week that America’s latest spelling bee champion was crowned. Fourteen-year-old Snigdha Nandipati triumphed by successfully spelling ‘guetapens,’ a French-derived word that means ambush, snare or trap. Mr Romney will be hoping that his app mishap will not prove to be the linguistic guetapens which keeps him out of the White House.