I am not a fan of going shopping. For me, it is functional, get in there, get what you need, and get out again. A browse round a bookshop is fun, of course, but that’s about it.
The rise of online shopping has changed all of that. On the one hand, you don’t need to go shopping, you can just do it on the computer. On the other, you can go shopping any hour of day or night, you are no longer spared just because the doors have been locked.
Now I’m sure we have all been guilty of going into shops, checking out a price, whipping out our phone to compare it to online competitors and then leaving to make that purchase from our living room. Maybe what we didn’t know was that we were ‘showrooming’.
Showrooming is defined as doing precisely what I have described, examining goods in a physical shop and then buying them cheaper online. When I say defined, of course, I don’t mean officially. Showrooming has not yet made it to the official annals of most dictionaries.
I am in a bit of a quandary about this word. I have often said that words emerge when there are new trends in need of a descriptor, and there is no doubt that this is a new activity and there is currently no adequate word in the language to encapsulate it. It is just that I can’t see anybody ever saying it. It feels like a term invented for the written media, for headline writers or analysts to use. Surely people will simply continue to say they are going shopping, even if they have no intention of actually buying anything while out. Surely people will use longer sentences if they want to go into details about what they have done, rather than using this particular word.
So while showrooming is likely to stick around for those who write about this phenomenon, I think it is unlikely to enter common speech for those who are actually doing it.
There have been many attempts over the years to redesign the traditional keyboard. Thus far, QWERTY has reigned supreme, and so a string of letters arranged for ease of typing has become the word by which the keyboard is known.
The latest challenger to this is designed with touch screens in mind and similarly takes its name from a string of letters in the arrangement, this time the opposite corner.
The KALQ keyboard is probably the only name that could have been chosen based on the arrangement, as frankly all the other lines produce unpronounceable gibberish, though I like the idea of the GTOJ keyboard challenging for typing supremacy. I wonder if the researchers made sure that there was at least one line which could be spoken to ensure their keyboard had a chance of being publicised.
Mind you, the combined brains of the University of St Andrews, the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Germany and Montana Tech in the US aren’t entirely obsessed with simplicity. They described the old design as trapping people in “suboptimal text entry interfaces”. Well quite.
Another thing that has emerged from this story is the phrase ‘thumb typing’ which is being treated as something linguistically new by the media, a fair point since it doesn’t seem to feature in online dictionaries yet. It obviously means typing with your thumb.
As technology evolves, who knows whether this mode of typing will become the new default, and thumb typing will simply become known as typing in the future, with finger typing then being needed as the word for the old fashioned sort. And as new devices come on the market, who can say what parts of our body we might end up typing with. And that could open up a whole new chapter of neologisms.
A couple of interesting developments in the housing market in the United States are set to make subtle changes to the English language.
In Seattle, there have been efforts to introduce a new kind of micro-housing as a way of saving space. Apodments, as they are called, are small living spaces in a block with access to shared kitchens – the perfect solution it would seem for young people looking for a cheap way to live.
But they are not so perfect for many in the city, with protest forming against plans to develop these Apodments. With Seattle seemingly the only place where they might spring up, their rejection might see a natty new housing word stifled at birth. But never say never – if Seattle can change the world of coffee drinking, then it may yet revolutionise apartment dwelling.
Meanwhile on the other side of the country, the Washington Business Journal has reported on a well-established housing term that could be set to bite the dust. According to a survey, an increasing number of housebuilders in the area are ditching the term ‘Master Bedroom’ because they say it is sexist or has connotations of slavery. ‘Owner’s Bedroom’ is being used instead.
Ignore the fact that owner’s bedroom simply doesn’t feel like it means the same thing – master bedroom implies the main room, owner’s bedroom is ultimately any bedroom, because the owner, logically, owns all of them. I agree with others who feel that this is political correctness gone potty. Yes, there are elements in English which are inherently sexist, and yes, there are times when it is important to be aware of that and change it where necessary.
But I remember years ago working on the subject of ‘unequal lexical pairs’ and considering ‘Master’ and ‘Mistress’ as examples where the feminine form of the word has wildly different meanings to the masculine one. In particular I suggested that ‘Mistress of Arts’ implied you’d be paying for them. ‘Mistress Bedroom’ doesn’t sound much better. So there are issues with the word Master. But I don’t think they really apply with Master Bedroom. I think that it’s a phrase where the male-ness of the word Master is actually irrelevant. For me, it simply means the biggest room, the gender question has simply never struck me as a problem.
So I see no reason for the phrase Master Bedroom to disappear. Unless you are buying an Apodment, of course.
Let’s immediately get one thing straight. If you’ve come here for an in-depth financial analysis of Bitcoins, you’re in the wrong place. But welcome anyway, have a look around. I’m sure you’ll find these offerings on financial haircuts, Greece or Fiscal Cliffs were worth the visit.
If you’re here for the more usual Wordability fare of finding out about new words, then let me tell you more. Bitcoin is not a new word per se, having first been used at the start of 2009. It emerged from research published the year before by Japanese developer Satoshi Nakamoto. But despite its history, the word is certainly novel for many of us, and its sudden emergence into the mainstream may see it being recognised as one of the words of the year.
So what is a Bitcoin? Basically, if I am understanding it correctly, it is a form of electronic currency, protected by a complex algorithm and limited to a maximum number of units. The reason you might have now heard of it is that investors are suddenly ploughing into them as the next potentially safe haven for their cash. Forget gold, it is said, Bitcoins are the new investment bling.
With prices rocketing from a few dollars to over $140, news outlets have been falling over themselves to explain them and debate them, while hackers have already been out to try and destroy them.
I clearly don’t profess to know what the future of Bitcoin is, and whether it will prove to be an investment flash in the pan or the future of money. But either way, it is now enjoying its moment in the sun, meaning that this is the year in which its place in the financial lexicon will be secured.
We have long been told that dinosaurs were big in stature but small on brain. That being true, it is a fair assumption that their linguistic ability consisted of loud, indiscriminate noises. It also means that the many different species living on Earth did not have contemporary names.
That’s why the discovery of new dinosaurs is always an exciting moment for the English language. A new, albeit very old, breed of dinosaur means a new piece of linguistic dexterity for the Palaeontologists involved. I always enjoy the thought that the name by which we subsequently know these creatures is something that would never have been near the consciousness of the animals themselves during their heyday.
Last year Wordability celebrated the discovery of the Nyasasaurus, and this year, it is actually time to mark a new pterosaur, rather than a dinosaur. The Vectidraco daisymorrisae was a small flying reptile. Its discovery came about when a five-year-old girl found a fossil on a beach on the Isle of Wight in 2009, with scientists now confirming its novelty.
The name Vectidraco means ‘Dragon from the Isle of Wight’, and daisymorrisae pays tribute the finder, Daisy Morris.
So a creature which flew around the earth millions of years ago is named after a land mass which probably didn’t exist then and a person who definitely didn’t. Not something which would ever have occurred to Vectidraco daisymorrisae during its lifetime.
A new year, a new dance, and a new challenger for the biggest craze on the Internet. The Harlem Shake is the biggest new thing on the block.
It has shot to prominence in the last couple of weeks, even though the music which has inspired it has been around since last May, which is when the song Harlem Shake was released by US DJ Baauer. It is only now, when scores of people have picked it and posted their own dances to the track on YouTube, that the concept and phrase have boomed.
So why does it work? I think it is because it ticks all the boxes for something to go viral. Fundamentally, it is easy to do and anybody can take part. A typical Harlem Shake video consists of 15 seconds of one person doing the shoulder-rolling dance, usually wearing a mask. Then everybody who was previously in shot but static is suddenly seen dancing along in equally manic fashion. And that’s basically it.
Of course the fact that it’s ludicrous helps. It is as silly as planking or Tebowing, ridiculous activities that people can partake in and share with their friends. And it has also picked up the Gangnam Style ability to get celebrities to take part, and we are already awash with football teams and other well-known groups of people doing their own Harlem Shake to get in on the act. It feels like Gangnam Style all over again.
So it is no shock that this phenomenon has taken off in the way that it has. And that means that Harlem Shake will inevitably feature in the shake-up at end of 2013 when it comes to discussing the words of the year.
If you have never worried about how couples at opposite ends of the obesity spectrum deal with their unique relationship issues, think again. A new study has laid bare the issues faced by so-called Mixed-Weight Couples.
I can see where this phrase is coming from – its a half rhyme away from mixed-race and so seems to trip off the tongue all too easily. But is this the start of a new trend for terms which will define relationship issues by the obvious differences on show?
Will we soon be reading about mixed-height couples, how they can’ t whisper secrets to one another without getting a stiff neck or how they wrestle with other more intimate limitations caused by their height differential? And what of mixed-dextrous couples, where one is right- and one is left-handed? The problems caused by not knowing which way to hang the fridge door could break the sturdiest of marriages.
Now I’m not denying that this is a valid study touching on something new, and that some people have found some genuine support from the publication of this work. I think the term is going to find a permanent place in the lexicon. I just hope it is not the start of a barrage of similar terms.
The subject of gay marriage is never far from the headlines, and the linguistic aspects of the debate also froth constantly near the surface.
Last year I looked at the discussions around the naming of the whole institution, and in particular the efforts of some to introduce a brand new word for it.
At the time I said that this completely missed the point at the heart of these issues, and that by giving this institution a different name it automatically became a different institution and therefore did not achieve the equality for which its adherents are fighting.
But despite this, some people still don’t get it. One such person is New Zealander Russell Morrison, whose contribution to a lively discussion among his country’s MPs was to suggest legislation for a brand new word – Sarriage.
He said: “Then a person can be asked whether he or she is married or sarried, and the response will make the situation clear for everybody.”
No Mr Morrison. What it will make clear to everybody is that parliament has failed in its role to give equality to people and has instead continued to sideline them by creating a brand new word. Or as Australian Marriage Equality’s national convener Rodney Croome eloquently put it: “What is the point of assigning same-sex couples a different word when ‘marriage’ describes exactly what many same-sex couples already have, a loving, committed, long-term relationship?
“The effect of alternate words like ‘sarriage’ would be to set same-sex partners apart, re-inforce discrimination against us and suggest our relationships are somehow less valuable and less serious than our heterosexual counterparts.”
Mr Croome is absolutely right. New words come in when there is a gap which needs filling. That is not the case here. But it will not stop the suggestions coming in.
The French have a famous aversion to the Anglicisation of their language. But such is the pervading influence of the Internet and global terms which surround it that sometimes drastic action is called for.
So it is with hashtag, that vital little addition with which all Twitter users are of course familiar. The term hashtag has started being used by the French twitterati, meaning that the arbiters of all things lexical and French have been forced to step in.
So from now on, French Twitterers are expected to refer to “mot-dièse” meaning “sharp word” whenever they wish to preface anything with an #. Like that’s going to work, and by all accounts, the move has already a received a Twitter thumbs down, especially as a musical sharp, as denoted by the new term, is not the same symbol as a hashtag.
So while France’s Commission Générale de Terminologie et de Néologie decides which popular online term to unsuccessfully target next, we are left to ponder whether this is a seminal moment for French. If the efforts of language officials do not manage to mandate what the correct word should be for the language in this case, will French continue to be a tongue which is limited and proscribed in terms of its vocabulary or will it start to take on a more English identity and be allowed to grow in a more natural way? Je ne sais pas.
I said it last year and I’ll say it again. I really wish people would stop coining new words for charity campaigns. It is already ceasing to have an impact and is detracting from the important work that is being done.
Last year, I bemoaned the Stoptober campaign, launched by the UK Government as a way of getting people to cut down on smoking. But still people carry on, and now Cancer Research has created a month where people don’t drink in order to raise money. They have called it the Dryathlon.
It is easy to see why this linguistic trick has become fashionable. Movember, the Daddy of the neologistically-inspired charity fundraiser, goes from strength to strength. Movember has undoubtedly become part of the lexicon. So people see it, see that it raises money to fight prostate cancer, and decide they want a piece of it.
But you can’t keep flogging the same idea and expect it to deliver. And the reason why Movember works, while Stoptoper and Dryathlon don’t, is that it is asking people to do something ludicrous. Growing a moustache is an inconsequential and fun thing to do. Coining a word to capture that idiocy is just part of the fun.
But giving up smoking and drinking are not fun, they are important, life-saving activities, and giving them a silly name and expecting people just to tag along, misses why Movember is a success. The word has be associated with something equally as daft for the perfect union.
I think it is a shame. I fear the idea of Dryathlon won’t really help the charity behind it, and that is a pity. You can judge for yourself how successful it has been. Dryathlon has not worked its way into popular culture the way that Movember has, awareness of it is at a much lower scale than its hirsute brother. It is simply not getting the coverage.
It’s time to find another way to raise money.