We all know that Christopher Columbus discovered America. Actually, we know he discovered it on behalf of the western world, because the country was already inhabited when he arrived.
This nuance over the meaning of ‘discovered’ has seen a new word created in the last few days. A sketch on the College Humor website pokes fun at the idea of white people stumbling across things known to others for many years and then claiming ownership and therefore discovery of them. In honour of the fabled Christopher, this practice is known as ‘Columbusing’.
Columnists have already had lots of fun with this idea, with Miley Cyrus and Twerking featuring prominently in the commentaries of many as she is associated in the minds of lots of people as having discovered twerking, when it had in fact been around for some time.
I think it’s an interesting word as it is a really neat way of encapsulating a quite complex concept, which has both political and social overtones. Whether it has any life beyond this week’s flurry of media activity remains to be seen, but I can see it hanging around as a satirical term online, even if it never makes it into mainstream conversations and dictionaries.
Interestingly, a similar meaning of Columbusing appears to have been submitted to the Urban Dictionary over a year ago. So have the writers at College Humor Columbused Columbusing?
Posted in Wordability In Brief
Tagged christopher_columbus, college_humor, columbusing, definition, dictionary, english, language, miley_cyrus, new_words, real_word, twerk, twerking
The official Scrabble dictionary has not been updated since 2005. But of course much has changed since then, so with a new update on the way shortly, the process of adding to the official word list has also evolved.
And so Facebook comes in. Scrabble manufacturers Hasbro have launched a competition via the social network for people to nominate their suggested words. These will then be whittled down to a shortlist and from there, one will be chosen to be fast tracked into the dictionary.
In some ways, the coverage has been fairly predictable, with Selfie and Twerking emerging as the most likely words to win the vote, according to the papers at any rate, and they are included in the nearly 3,000 comments currently sitting on the page.
Personally I think that it is important to target words with large scores, preferably those containing the expensive letters. Having gone back through the annals of Wordability to find suitably high-scoring options, I come back with Grexit, while KALQ would also score well. Phubbing has a number of high scoring components, while also giving users a chance to get rid of all of their letters.
But I find myself agreeing with many of the people who have posted on the official page with suggestions. Step forward Bart Simpson, who famously invented the word Kwyjibo and scored over 100 points into the bargain. What a wonderful winner that would be, only slightly undermined by the fact it isn’t actually a real word.
Of course, life will not imitate art in this respect, and Kwyjibo will not be the winner of this contest. But I just hope that it is not something entirely obvious, and we are not treated to another round of Selfie and Twerking headlines before too long.
The way that language changes in the home is not always reflected in the wider picture of the English language. Communication recorded online can be easily analysed and dissected, showing us how English is evolving. But it is much harder to work out how people are talking in domestic situations if that communication is not recorded in any way.
An interesting insight has now emerged with the publication of The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, which contains a large number of words used in the home.
Newspapers have had fun with some of the headline-grabbing words that have emerged, such as the 57 different options for remote control, including blapper, zapper and dawicki, and the various ways of referring to a cup of tea, such as splosh or blish.
I personally prefer some of the really bizarre ones, such as trunklements, which are a grandparent’s personal possessions, grooglums, which are the bits of food left in the sink after you have finished the washing up, or frarping, the sctaching of one’s bottom.
These stories provide an inevitable outpouring of writing about how English is being destroyed, and the words are ridiculous, and people should speak properly, and so on.
However, I don’t think that these words reflect a language that anybody would think is appropriate for formal settings, or reflects that people are not speaking properly. We all speak differently at home and all have ways of talking that are distinct to our own home environment, which are unintelligible to other people. It is fascinating to get an insight into some of the words which are making their mark in a domestic setting, even if they are never going to become wider terms or find a place in the formal language.
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.
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.
Even though it is now 2014, the final embers of 2013 are still upon us. Primary among this is the decision of the American Dialect Society to name Because as its word of the year.
Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society, said that a change in its grammatical usage in informal online settings was behind the victory. He said: “No longer does because have to be followed by of or a full clause. Now one often sees tersely worded rationales like ‘because science’ or ‘because reasons.’”
That’s why I think this is such a fascinating victory. Much of the language change which is ascribed to new forms of digital communication revolves around neologisms, new words being coined and taking off quickly, abbreviations exploding as words in their own right. But the idea that online messaging can actually change the grammatical properties of a previously existing word is a fascinating one, and that such a well entrenched word as Because can gain a whole new lease of life because of a switch in usage really emphasises that the English language is in a state of flux and that its evolution is gathering pace.
I was also interested to see Slash taking second place. Used as a coordinating conjunction to mean “and/or” (e.g., “come and visit slash stay”), it is an example almost of a new type of word or grammatical formulation. I read a fascinating piece last year by Professor Anne Curzan from the University of Michigan about how slash is evolving as a new kind of conjunction, exactly the usage in fact which the American Dialect Society has cited.
So while Wordability‘s focus will remain on new words as they evolve, this blog itself may find itself evolving to look at new parts of speech and how the fundamental rules of English may now be starting to change because of the influence of digital communication. One of the questions for 2014 may well be whether we are at the start of what will prove to be a fundamental change to the language we grew up with.
It is a fascinating time to be looking at the English language.