Anybody who knows me will appreciate that fashion is not something which I really spend any time thinking about. I want to look smart and like the clothes I wear, but I just choose stuff that I like and don’t worry about whether it is trendy or not.
Well now there is a new fashion trend in town, and a new word which is emerging as one of the strongest neologisms of 2014. Normcore was identified in February as a fashion trend where wearing similar clothes to other people is actually cool, and dressing in things which are comfortable and show you belong in society is acceptable and even something to be welcomed.
If I understand this correctly therefore, it seems to mean that is now trendy to wear normal clothes and stuff that you like, to dress like others in fact. I question my understanding of it, only because I have started reading articles by fashion writers on the subject and find that they make my head hurt within a few paragraphs. Even the habit of simply wearing normal clothes has now become the subject of torrents of analysis. Getting dressed in the morning has now become psychologically complicated.
Finally, fashion has caught up with what everybody else is doing. The question is, how long will it be cool to no longer be cool and when will it stop being cool to not be cool any longer? And no, I didn’t understand that either. That’s fashion for you.
I doubt that Gwyneth Paltrow was thinking much about her contribution to the English language when she announced her split from husband Chris Martin this week.
But by declaring that they were going to ‘consciously uncouple’, a new language phenomenon was born. Reams of copy about what conscious uncoupling truly means, social media hilarity as people put their own spin on the term referring to any kind of disengagement, cynicism over what it will do for book sales for therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas and her programme of the same name.
So will conscious uncoupling become a mainstream and established term for splitting up? No. But it is very likely to have a future as a term which is used ironically in break-up stories for years to come. You can easily imagine it appearing in inverted commas to give context to other stories, as a gauge of how amicable or otherwise a split seems in comparison to the Paltrow-Martin split.
We are not going to be able to consciously uncouple away from it any time soon.
I had hoped never to write about selfies again. They already feel so last year, notwithstanding the emergence of their farming offspring felfie. But there is an increasing trend for one more type of selfie, so I felt duty bound to record it in the annals of Wordability.
Basically, celebrities have been taking photos of their bottoms and posting them on social media. Belfies, as they have become known, first appeared at the end of 2013, but are being written about now in increasing numbers, with luminaries such as Ireland Baldwin, Pascal Craymer and Lucy Watson (no, I’ve never heard of any of them either) eager to get in on the act.
The derivation of Belfie is pretty straightforward – Bum and Selfie combined into a hilarious whole. But without wishing to be pedantic (not true), this formation is inaccurate. A Selfie is a photo taken of yourself, by yourself. Having looked at some Belfies, for research purposes only you understand, it seems to be anatomically impossible for most of these bottoms to have been photographed by the people to whom they belong. The only person I can think of with arms long enough to actually take a proper Belfie is Mr Tickle, and given the absence of orange blobs appearing in the Belfie annals, it seems he hasn’t succumbed yet.
So while Belfie might be around for some time to come, spend a moment realising that the word itself should not be defined as a photo taken by yourself of your own bottom. All that you could really photograph with normal arms might be encapsulated with a much more graphic word, which coincidentally ends up being a very useful term for describing people who put these images out on social media.
Words which originate from internet crazes are usually fairly harmless. Tebowing a couple of years ago, when people imitated American Football Star Tim Tebow’s victory pose in random places, was nothing more than harmless fun. Planking, where people lie down in random places, was also fun, but did lead to tragedies when people tried the activity in dangerous places.
But there seems to be nothing harmless about Neknomination, the latest craze sweeping social media and claiming lives in the process. If somebody is neknominated, then they are required to drink a large quantity of alcohol quickly and then post the video online to prove that they have done it. So potent are some of the cocktail combinations that people are drinking, that deaths have occurred as a result, and the word Neknomination is rapidly establishing itself as a key new word of 2014.
There is already a linguistic alternative, with Raknomination being spawned to mean nominating someone to do a random act of kindness, rather than risk their life with a drink. But in many ways, it will be good if this word does not get established, as it would probably imply that neknomination has disappeared from common usage once more.
Many internet crazes suggest that people have too much time on their hands, or feel the need to do stupid things to get a sense of belonging or social connection in their lives. What does it say about our society that people feel the need to swallow dangerous amounts of alcohol just to satisfy a dare?
I have always had a bit of an aversion to the suffix gate to denote a controversy. Two years ago I bemoaned its every-growing influence when the story of David Cameron, Rebekah Brooks and a horse hit the headlines and Horsegate was everywhere.
I ducked out altogether a few months later when the controversy over Government chief whip Andrew Mitchell, a gate and the claim he had called a policeman a pleb saw Plebgate enter common language and never go away again. I think the fact that this scandal was also referred to as Gategate just confirmed why I just find this coinage irritating.
But gate shows no sign of going away, and what might once have been a specifically English linguistic formation is now crossing into other languages. Gate as a suffix has been named as Germany’s Anglicism of the Year for 2013.
The panel noted that gate as a suffix has been used in Germany since Watergate in the 1970s, the scandal which gave rise to the whole gate industry, but it is only the last couple of years that it has really become commonplace, with more than a dozen gate scandals in the public eye in 2013. I can only wonder what Eggnog Gate was about.
Other Anglicisms which came into consideration were Fake as a prefix, Whistleblower, the ever-popular Selfie and Hashtag.
While awards like this are a bit of fun, they do point to the ever changing nature not just of English but also of other languages in the way that English is now influencing them. Once again, our increasing globalisation, and in particular the effects of the internet and social media, are confirming that the influences which affect language change are different to those of even five years ago, while change is increasingly a quick affair. Previous winners of this German prize, such as Crowdfunding and Shitstorm, show that as words become new and established in English so the best ones will almost jump across species and establish themselves within another tongue.
This has always happened, but the speed of adoption and the way that an increasing number of terms now seem to be establishing themselves in more than one language at the same time confirms yet again that we are in a fascinating era for language development, and the old rules are now being rewritten. And that’s a really exciting development to watch. Unless there is a gate involved, of course.
When you have an eight-year-old daughter, you find yourself inadvertently introduced to a whole new world of television. Maya has been a fan of a number of Nickelodeon shows of late, including iCarly and Victorious, and has also enjoyed Sam & Cat, the offspring of the two programmes.
So she was very excited when I told her I had a reason to write about Sam & Cat on Wordability. The reason? There is a new episode dedicated to the teens’ efforts to get a new word into the dictionary.
The word itself, Lumpatious, is of course not in any dictionary at the moment. Used as an adjective to criticise someone who is unpleasant and idiotic, the episode revolves around their ultimately successful effort to get the word included into the Oxnard English Dictionary.
I think there are a number of interesting things about this episode. Firstly, it actually has some fun with the dictionary process, and the Oxnard offices portrayed are quite amusing and of course utterly unlike their Oxford equivalents.
Secondly, it might make youngsters think a little bit about the words they use and how they get recognised, so if there is a genuinely educational element around the English langauge at the end of it all, then that is a good thing.
But finally, I think the show could become self-fulfilling. Two years ago, I wrote about the word Swapportunity, a word coined by Yoplait yoghurt, and while it is still not a word that is recognised by any authority, people are still searching for it and coming to my blog to find out more.
By including the word Lumpatious in a show popular with tweens and teens, you can easily imagine a situation where it becomes part of the fans’ vocabulary. And given the way that once these episodes have aired for the first time, their life appears to continue almost indefinitely with endless repeats, that word will simply be reinforced and will start to seep into vocabulary. It is already developing on Twitter. So a word which doesn’t exist and which was coined for a television programme will start to be used in real life because of that TV programme and will ultimately find its way into the dictionary. And so life will imitate art. And it won’t be lumpatious.
I’m a bit of a sucker for competitive cookery programmes. One thing that is always entertaining is the quirks of the contestants and the fripperies they often try to get into their food. In particular, I remember one contestant who was obsessed with trying to get a quenelle into everything.
In that context, quenelle is an egg-shaped mound of food, and is normally an accompaniment to a main course, or perhaps some ice cream, delicately shaped using two spoons before being added to the plate to give it some apparent finesse. So entertaining did we find this as a family, that my eight-year-old daughter starting forming quenelles of cream cheese to put with her crackers. And in gastronomy, quenelle has a bigger relative, a dish of a creamed protein combined with breadcrumbs and egg and served as a more substantial dish.
But quenelles are no longer funny. No, Premier League footballer Nicolas Anelka and his French comedian buddy Dieudonne have seen to that. At the start of 2014, quenelle was only really known to English speakers from the usage described above. But once Anelka had adopted the quenelle pose to celebrate a goal for West Brom against West Ham, its racially charged meaning started to dominate headlines everywhere.
The gesture, created by Dieudonne in 2005, is an inverted Nazi salute with the opposite hand touching the shoulder. It is derived from its edible cousin and harks back to when Dieudonne said he wanted to insert a quenelle up the backside of Zionists. But his subsequent claims that this is an anti-establishment, rather than an anti-semitic, gesture, seem hollow, given the subsequent usage of the action outside synagogues or Holocaust memorials.
The usage of the quenelle has been growing in France, but it still took its adoption by Anelka to propel it to prominence and a place in the English language. And the debate over the true meaning of it seems irrelevant now. Whether or not Anelka’s usage of it was innocent, and whether or not Dieudonne means it to be truly racially offensive or not, it now is. The quenelle gesture is now perceived by people in England as anti-semitic and it will justifiably become something that people should be vilified for using, without allowing them to hide behind an argument about the nuances of its actual intention.
The quenelle has changed its meaning forever with English speakers, and the next time I watch a cookery show, it will be interesting to see if the producers have seen fit to quietly move them off the table.
The linguistic flexibility of the word Selfie seemingly knows no bounds. Not content with being a word of the year, Selfie is now showing itself as flexible and changeable, with multiple variations being coined to describe the seemingly infinite variations of self-portrait that are now emerging.
The first alternatives focused on different parts of the body being pictured, with Legsie being mooted as one specific example which was taking off. The latest evolution is derived from those taking the pictures themselves, and the one that has attracted significant attention is self-portraits taken by farmers, otherwise known as Felfies.
The home for Felfies is the Farmingselfies website, set up by farmer William Wilson as a way of putting a face to the many farmers whose hard and isolated lives feed so many people round the world. It’s unlikely he envisioned the attention that his move would bring. But social media loves a picture of an animal, and as farmers started to submit their snaps of them together with the other inhabitants of their farms, so the concept and the term Felfie itself began to grow and trend.
From a linguistic point of view, I have to wonder whether the never-ending spread of selfies means an increasing number of variants for the English-language to contend with. If other professions jump on the bandwagon, will they spawn their own versions? Will bakers be taking Belfies and shelf-stackers snapping Shelfies before too long? And pity the poor sailors, who cannot claim Selfies as their own.
Selfie recently topped the Lake Superior State University annual list of banished words. It is fair to see that if these alternative versions continue to emerge, a whole gamut of Selfie progeny could be topping the list in 12 months’ time.
It’s been an interesting year for sex in France. Linguistically, at any rate. Earlier this year, the word Galocher for French Kiss finally made it into the Petit Robert dictionary. And now another saucy term has found itself in the headlines.
As part of its efforts to keep the French language pure, English terms are frowned on, and L’Académie Française, France’s official language authority, has now published a list of the French alternatives to Anglicised expressions with are creeping into the language.
The proposed variant to Sexting has garnered most attention, with Textopornographie put forward as the new word in the official government list. I don’t know about you, but I know which one sounds more lurid and has a certain je ne sais pas.
There are some other interesting terms in the list, such as Vidéoagression for Happy Slapping, which again sounds more ominous than its English equivalent, or Surtransposition for Gold Plating.
As English-inspired technology drives word evolution, there will be more of this. Earlier this year Wordability reported on the replacing of Hashtag with Mot-Dièse, and as this latest story shows, this trend will only continue. Or as the French will come to say, That’s Life.
The most picturesque toilet I have ever visited was in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan.
I appreciate that’s quite a random sentence with which to start a post on a language blog, but this morning I found myself musing on that hilltop location, where the greenery spread out for miles and the fluttering breeze made it the most tranquil place imaginable to spend a Ngultrum.
What brought this back to mind? Well it was a news story centring on a dispute over the most remote public toilet in the UK mainland, and the rival claims of two Scottish conveniences to be the remotest loo in the UK. A slow news day, perhaps.
So why is there a Wordability interest? Very simply, the article discussed the whole concept of ‘wild toileting’, a phrase I was not previously familiar with and one which a search of the internet suggests is not in wide circulation, with only a smattering of mentions in a handful of places to represent its digital footprint.
With no official definitions to hand, it seems to have been used to mean ‘the practice of relieving yourself in wild locations and to the detriment of the surroundings’.
It’s a very entertaining term, and I guess there isn’t really a current alternative in English for this particular scenario, but it does seem a little superfluous. Most of us would still just talk about going to the loo, or whatever the vernacular is in our dialect of English, even though it’s a wild loo and isn’t made of porcelain. I’m not sure this is a term that is here to stay.
Mind you, I think it would be quite nice if wild toileting could come to mean something else, perhaps carrying out your business while screaming or shouting or thrashing about with an electric guitar. Alternatively, it could mean taking a scattergun approach to where your doings actually end up landing.
Or it could just be what you end up suffering when you’ve been been caught in a shitstorm.