Tag Archives: english

Language’s Greatest Era

As Wordability celebrates its 200th posting, it’s time to pause for a moment and take stock of the state of language today.

When I started the Wordability blog, I knew that the constant stream of new words and phrases which flood into the English language would ensure that there would always be a steady flow of things to write about. Added to that, the reaction that such stories often engender in the media confirmed that there would also be an audience who would find such musings interesting.

But what has become increasingly apparent is that much of that interest stems from people who want to moan and complain about the way that language changes, and protest that terms that become recognised as words simply aren’t words at all and should be sent back to where they came from.

This has been particularly apparent in the last few weeks, when a couple of high-profile organisations announced additions to their corpus. The Scrabble dictionary updated to use many new terms, which allowed headline writers everywhere to condemn this ‘Ridic’ development as ‘Obvs’ not ‘Dench’. Then US dictionary Merriam-Webster revealed its latest additions, with WTF lending itself most obviously to people who wanted to criticise the move. And even the French got in on the act, with their much-proclaimed ban on English words seemingly being relaxed in some volumes and Selfie finding a place in their listings.

So what does all this mean? Well to a blogger like myself, it means I will never be short of anything to write about. For as long as new words keep appearing and people continue to react to them, I will continue to have a blog worth maintaining.

However, it means a great deal more than that. Because I think this is the most exciting era for language development that there has ever been. The digital era in which we now reside has changed everything in ways that we don’t recognise ourselves yet, and will only recognise perhaps when we have a little more hindsight and perspective on the radical times in which we live. It is undeniable that the pace of life has changed and the global nature of our community has changed. And all of this has meant that language evolution has sped up to such a degree that we almost can’t keep track of it.

It’s not just the new words which appear, it is the challenges to the structure of language itself. It is these things which make this the most exciting era of language evolution there has ever been, not only because of the changes but also because of the footprint of change which digital technology provides, meaning we can track and understand those changes better than ever. We have a record of what is going on. As parts of speech change, new parts of speech emerge, and even new languages appear with extraordinary rapidity, this is a period to be heralded as amazingly exciting and not one to be condemned by those who believe that language is set in stone. It isn’t.

So what do I expect to write about in my next 200 postings? Will the English language look the same in 200 postings’ time? Well there will certainly be abundant new words, but many of those will disappear after their brief flowering and never come back again. For every selfie there are 10 Bleisures. People will continue to use -gate as a suffix with stupefying monotony. Hashtags will continue to evolve and become ever more powerful as means of communication. Technology and the internet will remain the greatest drivers of change. English will also continue to invade other languages, as the lingua franca of mass communication continues to define itself.

And throughout it all, vast swathes of people will continue to complain that English is being ruined and violated by the changes that are unavoidable. I look forward to reading the stories, writing about the developments, and ensuring that Wordability keeps abreast of all of the key new terms that our enriching our magnificent language.

Grexit Not Just for Grimbo

Whatever you may feel about the economic ramifications of Greece’s ongoing financial hardships, you have to acknowledge the contribution they have made to the English language.

First we had Grexit, the prospect of Greece leaving the euro, which spawned many sub-genres of alternative exit word. And now, with economic paralysis because Greece has still not left the eurozone but still might, there is a state of limbo. A Greek limbo. Or Grimbo, if you will.

Citigroup, the economics experts who gave us Grexit back in 2012, are responsible for the latest word. In a statement, they explained the economic backdrop and concluded that “Grexit in the next few months is not inconceivable, and it is certainly more likely if we consider Grimbo durations of a year or more.” No gobbledygook there then.

Sadly this will not be the end of the Greek neologisms. Economists at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch have responded with Grexhaustion, the definition of which frankly escapes me at the moment but is unlikely to be ‘being fed up with the coining of new words to describe the Greek economic crisis’.

But the one thing that is certain as this situation rolls on is that for as long as people are reporting it, then they will be vying with each other to coin the next Greek-inspired word to describe the crisis. The ultimate game of Grone-upmanship, perhaps.

Mobilegeddon not Apocalyptic

If you really want to stress somebody out about an impending technological disaster then give it a really scary name. Just think Millennium Bug.

Of course the turn of the millennium proved to be less parasitical than had been predicted, and the downside of crying technology wolf is that when you incorrectly predict the apocalypse, so dire warnings that are important might end up being ignored. And so that brings us to Mobilegeddon.

Last week you could barely avoid articles about the subject and could have been forgiven for thinking that the mobile network was about to melt, such is the impact of coining a -geddon word. But no. Instead, Google was making a change in its search algorithm, meaning that websites not in tip-top condition when viewed on mobile phones would be penalised in mobile search results, potentially hitting traffic to them.

When I write that sentence, I can see the need for a catchy term of some sort to promote interest, as clearly there is nothing sexy about the subject matter when you come to describe it. But by coining something so over the top, and the website Search Engine Land has been credited for it, it overplayed something which might not otherwise have made the national press but equally might not have deserved to as it’s not really that interesting.

The dearth of coverage outside the techie press since Mobilegeddon Day on April 21 confirms this was never really a mainstream story and not really deserving of the growing usage of -geddon as a suffix. It is not a word that will be with us for long.

And because I know you’re wondering, Wordability passed its mobile-readiness test with flying colours. So there’s no excuse for not reading.


Wordability passes the test

Fracas Outbreak on the Way

It’s interesting how old words sometimes become new words, especially when it’s a row about dinner which creates the transformation. But so it is for ‘fracas’, which has rapidly become one of the most overused words in the UK in the last week following TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson’s unseemly spat with a producer over an allegedly missing steak.

Amid the outbreak of analysis and comment about Clarkson’s future job prospects with the BBC, there has been one almost consistent theme, namely that the word ‘fracas’ is being used in inverted commas almost universally when appearing in headlines.

I think there are two reasons for this. The journalistic and legal explanation is that this was the word used when the altercation first came to light, so it is not only a direct quotation from the original sources but also offers no judgment on the outcome of any hearing, it is the neutral word that describes rather than finds fault.

But I think there is a little more to it than that. New words often appear in inverted commas when they take their first tentative steps into the English language, especially if they find themselves swiftly elevated to headline status. I think that fracas appearing in this way confirms that for many people, it is a very unfamiliar or new word to many, and should be treated as such. Some of the coverage given to the word itself supports this.

So what of the future. Will fracas return to its normal humble routine once the whole Clarkson thing dies down? I’m not sure that it will. I suspect that fracas will now gain a new lease of life and will start to be used in myriad other contexts when there is talk of any sort of an angry coming together. It will always reference back to the Clarkson affair and mean things are seen within that prism, but expect to see fracas being used with greater alacrity in the weeks and months to come as the new word for this kind of incident. 

Spocking Starts To Prosper

And so Leonard Nimoy passed away a few days ago, and the world was awash with tributes to a fine actor who had left an indelible memory across the globe as Spock of Star Trek fame.

Roll on a few days, and Nimoy is still in the news, only this time because his image has been appearing across banknotes in Canada. Encouraged by the Canadian Design Resource, citizens have been ‘Spocking’ their banknotes. This involves drawing the legendary sci-fi character’s pointy ears and haircut onto Wilfrid Laurier, who appears on the country’s five dollar bill. The practice has continued despite the country’s central bank asking for it to cease.

While I can understand how the physical similarity between the 19th century prime minister and the Vulcan genius has spawned such a development, I am less unsure as to why Canada should be should be a hotbed of Trekkie tribute, as I can see no connection between the actor or the show that should make it so. Perhaps a fan can enlighten me.

But it is nice to see Star Trek making another indelible mark on language. From boldly splitting an infinitive to creating an entire language that has its own institute, Spocking is a new word which will find a small niche in our vocabulary this year and will be fondly remembered in years to come. In other words, it will live short but prosper.

Brelfies The Latest Craze

I vowed to myself that I would never again write about a Selfie derivative. And yet…

So another craze is now exploding across the Internet. Brelfies, breastfeeding selfies, are the latest phenonemon, as breastfeeding mothers post photographs of themselves feeding their tiny offspring.

I am not going to get into a debate about the pros and cons of the images themselves – others are probably far better placed. Instead, I want to draw attention to it in the annals of Wordability as one of the many Selfie crazes which seems to have gained some traction, and probably more than some of the other ones I have covered such as Felfies, Usies and Belfies.

But there is more than just recognising its existence. What is interesting is the way that Selfie is evolving as a word. The ‘elfie’ suffix can take almost anything at the beginning to denote a particular type of photo, but it has already undergone a semantic evolution. Selfies are very specifically photos that people take of themselves. Brelfies on the other hand are not taken by their subject, they are photographs of individuals but are taken by other people.

So the idea of a photographic portrait is being overtaken by the Selfie, whose linguistic derivatives are rapidly growing to encapsulate all kinds of photos of individuals. I wonder if it is possible that individual images of people will all come to be referred to in Selfie terms in the future, and the portrait photo will become a thing of the past. I wouldn’t rule it out.

Homillionaires On The Rise

There’s nothing like coining a new word to get your story into print. Many are the press releases I see where a neologistic angle has been taken as a way of grabbing headlines. Few are the ones that get any traction.

So well done to estate agency Savills, which managed to get quite widespread coverage for its findings about the increasing numbers of people who are living in houses worth a million pounds or more, but who don’t necessarily think of themselves as millionaires. According to Savills, they are ‘Homillionaires’.

I think a round of headlines is as far as this new word will travel. It’s a pretty ugly creation, and doesn’t really work at all in spoken format, which is a clear negative when it comes to widespread adoption. And while there is certainly a semantic gap for the term to squeeze into, property millionaires as a term probably covers it adequately enough.

That’s not to say that the word will completely disappear. I can see newspapers referencing it in other pieces about property prices this year, but always with inverted commas around it to confirm that it hasn’t really established itself. It’s a term whose future is probably purely for journalists and sub-editors.