It’s a fair bet that most readers of Wordability will not spend much time thinking about new words in Chinese. But when that word starts to become a social media phenomenon, it’s time to take notice of it and wonder whether it will cross over into the lingua Franca of the Internet as a whole.
Tuhao has appeared millions of times across Chinese social media. The word is actually more than 1,500 years old and means rich landowner. However it is now used to refer to the newly wealthy, the nouveau riche, to bring in yet another language. It has been commandeered in a derogatory way for these people, who flaunt their freshly acquired fortunes with displays of conspicuous consumption, gaudy jewellery, and the latest gadgets, especially the gold iPhone. The words Bling and Tuhao never seem to be far away from one another.
The word, comprised of ‘tu’ meaning dirt and ‘hao’ meaning splendour, got its social media kick from a joke which went viral. A young man asks a Zen master, “I’m wealthy but unhappy. What should I do?” The Zen master responds, “Define ‘wealthy.’ ” The young man answers, “I have millions in the bank and three apartments in central Beijing. Is that wealthy?” The Zen master silently holds out a hand, inspiring the young man to a realisation: “Master, are you telling me that I should be thankful and give back?” The Zen master says, “No … Tuhao, can I become your friend?”
As Buddhist jokes go, I prefer the one about the pizza. But leaving that aside the term has now become a Chinese Internet staple as a way of referring to this particular social trend.
It is very much part of a development in Chinese culture and would not necessarily apply everywhere, but its a neat and effective piece of linguistic shorthand that is perfect for modern methods of communication.
As Chinese presence increases globally, it will be interesting to watch whether linguistic developments such as this cross over into wider usage. Will a domain which has hitherto been dominated by English neologisms starts to become yet another area where Chinese influence starts to dominate?
An interesting new word has been coined in America to describe a social phenomen which seems to be the antithesis of globalisation and our increasing merging of cultures. Cultuphobia is defined as ‘the fear that another person’s culture is taking over your own’.
It’s a clever coining by writer Ruben Navarrette, who was inspired to come up with the term after a televisual experiment. To mark the launch of English-language, Latino-targeted television network Fusion, the hosts of Spanish-language breakfast show Despierta America appeared on Good Morning America, with talent from that programme going in the opposite direction.
What appeared to be an entertaining cross-cultural experience, enjoyed by all who took part, turned instead into an outpouring of online anger, with many fans of Good Morning America furious at what had happened to their favourite show and demanding that it shouldn’t happen again.
Navarrette used this as a way of introducing Cultuphobia as a term, saying that it demonstrated the fear that people have of a new culture coming in and changing the established order of things.
I think it is an interesting attempt to introduce a new word, but is it really necessary? There are lots of other terms that cover issues of people disliking and fearing other cultures. History has also shown us many occasions when the fear of another culture’s influence has seen the dominant culture abuse and ultimately drive out that smaller culture, so it is not a new concept.
I think cultuphobia covers an interesting nuance of meaning, but I am not sure it is distinctive enough to really establish itself as a word that defines something appreciably different. Nevertheless, it does remind us that even though the world is changing, and cultures are influencing each other an increasing amount, there will always be people for whom this is not a positive development.
The bushfires raging in Australia have ravaged large parts of New South Wales. They also serve to highlight that sometimes a theoretical new word can become real in devastating ways.
The term Mega-Fire appears to have been coined two years ago, and though some fires began to be described in this way immediately, it was more of a theory than anything else. A report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization used the term, and said that the definition is more to do with the impact on people and the environment than their specific size.
But in many ways, it was just a theory then. Robert Keane, a research ecologist at the US Forest Service’s Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, said: “Mega-fire is more of a concept than a construct. What I interpret it to mean is not only is it large, but it affects a lot of people.”
Now of course it is anything but theoretical, as fire continues to take hold in Australia and the term Mega-Fire is all over the headlines.
What I think is particularly interesting is that this is really a technical term and will continue to be used to describe a particular scale and type of fire. At first, it was easy to assume it was a shorthand coined by journalists to boost headlines. But it isn’t, and is something that has a specific meaning for those whose job it is to fight and contain such disasters.
If our climate is changing and fires are going to get worse, this year will not be the only time that mega-fires dominate the news.
By a quirk of the calendar, Thanksgiving this year falls this on the first night of the Jewish festival of Chanukah.
Both are movable feasts in terms of their specific English date. Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. Chanukah is on a fixed date in the Jewish calendar, but that calender itself is a complex lunar and solar amalgam, where the lunar months are regularly supplemented by an extra month in order to keep festivals in line with their place in the solar cycle.
This complex arrangement means that Hebrew and English dates coincide once every 19 years, though even these are not exact as there can still be slight adjustments either way of a day or two.
But what it really means is that Chanukah is really only early enough once every 19 years to land square on with Thanksgiving, and even then, it would have to be a Thursday. So how rare is this? Well, so rare that it hasn’t happened in over 100 years, and even though it is slated to happen again in 2070 and 2165, it will then be many millennia before the joint celebration falls again. And I dare say that society may not be celebrating Thanksgiving and Chanukah in 70,000 years’ time, though that’s a musing for a different blog altogether.
I digress. The reason this has piqued Wordability’s interest is that the confluence has created something which is being regarded almost as a new festival, one where the traditions and food of both will be combined in one glorious night. And every new festival deserves a new word. So step forward Thanksgivukkah.
Frankly, the best thing about this is that this occurrence is so rare, so this pretty ugly portmanteau will soon retreat into the realms of linguistic obscurity and history where it so richly deserves to dwell. The problem with it is that it just sounds ugly and doesn’t trip off the tongue. And is it really necessary? No, I don’t think so. Chanukah and Christmas meet often enough, nobody who marks both feels a need for a new word. Same with Passover and Easter. Frankly I am glad that most festivals stay in broadly fixed slots throughout the year to avoid more of these linguistic aberrations.
So happy Thanksgivukkah to all who are celebrating – but please, just ditch the name.
If I told you that somebody had invented a plant which grows both tomatoes and potatoes, you’d think I was making it up. Or ask me what the point of it was.
But the TomTato plant has indeed gone on sale in the UK. Plant one and you will get a bumper crop of sweet tomatoes on the top half, while the roots will sprout copious potatoes.
I have to say that I find the idea of this kind of grafted plant somewhat peculiar and it leaves me wondering what linguistic delights we may have to look forward to in the future. Brocberries, auberfigs, caulicumbers anyone?
For now though we will simply have to enjoy a plant which can yield us both chips and ketchup simultaneously.
When I read that supermarket group Tesco was going to start stocking the world’s largest avocado, my first thought was that the word for it must already be in wide usage. OK, that was my second thought. My first thought was Yum.
But putting my greed to one side, I quickly Googled the word and discovered to my surprise that Avozilla does not appear to have been in any kind of common currency prior to this announcement. It’s not even in Wikipedia, and everything that’s anything is in Wikipedia. Except for Wordability of course, but that’s just a matter of time.
All of which makes me slightly sceptical about the Avozilla. The way it has been hyped and covered suggests it is a new variety of avocado. The press release trumpets that the fruit “is extremely rare and comes from just four trees grown by one of the world’s biggest suppliers of avocados, in South Africa.” Tesco salad buyer Emma Bonny said: “The Avozilla has a fantastic taste with a rich, juicy, buttery texture, and creamy flavour.” As well as its size, the difference in skin colour and texture are also used to highlight that it is a different variety.
Tesco salad buyer Emma Bonny with an Avozilla
Call me cynical, but isn’t this basically just a big avocado? Don’t you already get some avocados with dark skin and some with light skin? Aren’t all the best avocados buttery and creamy? Is this really a new variety?
The answer is surely in the word itself, and not just the fact that it appears nowhere else except in reference to this launch. New varieties are often amalgams of the different fruits which they represent, such as a Papple, or just some other word or scientific term altogether. But the only derivation I can think of for the Avozilla is Godzilla, and that the -zilla suffix is being used here to denote its monstrous size.
Not a normal way of naming varieties and not one I see catching on beyond the world of marketing spin. Applezilla anyone?
Two new words for brand new concepts have appeared on the scene this week, but that is the only thing that links them. What is interesting about them is how they are at almost opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the objects for which they have been coined.
First out of the blocks was the Hyperloop, the name of a putative high-speed link of the future between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Proposed by entrepreneur Elon Musk, the Hyperloop would place passengers in a vehicle which is propelled along a tube at enormous speeds, covering the distance between the two cities in half an hour.
Will this ever happen? At this stage, who can say, meaning that Hyperloop may be a word of much discussion in 2013, but could have absolutely no linguistic future because the thing which it describes may never exist. Of course if it does, Londoners undertaking tube travel may become very jealous of the version of tube travelling happening 8,000 miles away.
The nature of this word is diametrically opposed to Olinguito, which has also been unveiled this week. The Olinguito is a newly identified carnivore living in cloud forests in South America, the first newly named carnivore in 35 years.
So we have something that doesn’t exist with a name, and something which has always existed but has never had a name up to now. Both are great new words of this year. Something man-made versus something natural.
I suspect that the one which has had to wait much longer for recognition will be the one that makes it through to full lexical recognition,
I’m not sure exactly how long zero-hours contracts have been around, but their sudden ascent to the front pages suggest this is a phrase that has found its place in history in 2013.
The contracts, which basically offer no guarantee of hours or pay to those employed on them, have been getting wider coverage over the last few months.
However, a new report that suggests that one million people are employed on such contracts has elevated the word to the top of public consciousness, suggesting it may prove to be a political hot potato for all parties over the next few months. It is certainly a term that we are not going to be able to avoid for the forseeable future and is a linguistically neat way of describing a very particular set of circumstances. Or is it too neat, and kind of spirits away the difficulties faced by people on these contracts in a simple phrase. The term potentially masks the reality of the issues.
Either way, expect to see it jostling near the top of words of the year lists at the end of 2013.
The unveiling of the world’s first stem-cell burger has divided opinion between those who think it is the answer to the world’s food problems and those who believe it is the start of a slippery slope to culinary catastrophe. But there is one thing I think we can all agree on – what on earth should we call it?
The creation, cooking and eating of the burger, which cost more than £200,000, has been reported under various names. Let’s be honest though, the official terms such as ‘in-vitro meat’, ‘cultured meat’, they don’t really trip off the tongue. Equally, I’m sure the scientists behind this venture don’t want it entering the vernacular as a Frankenburger, a Test Tube Burger or a Stem Cell Burger, all pejorative terms of varying degrees.
The myriad of epithets is fascinating. Here is a brand new concept, and something which could quite easily become a staple part of our diet and lives in years to come. So what we end up calling it will be quite important.
I suspect that if this does actually take off, a brand new word which we haven’t yet thought of will emerge. There are all sorts of good reasons why something which references meat may not the word that is ultimately used. It will need to be a word that shows that this is something else, derived from meat but in many ways different. Quorn has succeeded well with this, establishing itself as a food group in its own right away from its fungal ancestry.
Equally, any word suggesting it is some kind of alternative meat is bound to divide opinion, as however it is slated could be grist to one side or another. And ‘meat substitute’ as a name just won’t wash, and will simply bring Basil Fawlty’s infamous veal substitute to mind.
So I think this is a story to watch with interest, because if this is a concept that is truly something for the future, then the linguistic ramifications will be enormous.
Ambitious plans have been unveiled for tackling some of London’s most congested roads. But while I applaud the ambition, I am less sure about the new word which these proposals may unleash on an unsuspecting world.
A major part of the plan would see the six-lane flyover at Brent Cross covered over with a new pedestrianised area, with the road disappearing under the ground instead. Then new proposed highway has been dubbed a ‘Flyunder’.
I have often said on the cyber pages of Wordability that new words emerge when there is a linguistic gap which needs filling. But there are already some quite serviceable words to cover such a road. How about underpass. Or tunnel.
Flyunder may tick the box of making the proposal sound sexier and more 21st century, but it is what it is – a great big road under the ground. And we all know that underground, you can’t fly. Sadly, if it had been announced that there were plans to build a Burrowunder, it just wouldn’t have had the same ring.