There is a growing tradition for charities to invent new words as titles to bring attention to themselves. Movember, Stoptober and Dryathlon are three recent examples. I can understand why they do it, because if the new word sticks in people’s minds then the charity can prove to be a big hit. Movember in particular has been a hugely successful campaign, and its name has become embedded in the language as a result.
The latest effort is the brainchild of actor Stephen Amell. The star of Arrow has charity credentials, having taken on cancer with the apposite F*** Cancer campaign last year.
His new campaign, helping out both an anti-bullying group and military veterans, is named after a new word he coined last year. Sinceriously has been defined by the star as ‘the ability to speak freely, openly and honestly about anything’, with a secondary meaning of ‘to initiate any action while spreading as much good karma as possible’. A T-shirt showcasing the definition and supporting the charity has gone on sale
Mr Amell said “It’s a campaign to get people talking. And what better way to get people talking than by creating a new word.” Well yes, of course I agree. New words do get people talking. But the problem with a manufactured word such as this one is that even if it does get people talking, the subject matter may be that the word is not a very good one. Clearly derived from sincerely, I’m not sure that it really develops that word in any meaningful way, and I can’t see people using it. Frankly, it just sounds like you’ve got the actual word wrong.
All of which is a shame. Mr Amell clearly does fine work for charity and his efforts are only to be applauded. He also understands that getting the right new word for a charity can propel it to stratospheric levels. It’s just that this isn’t a great word. Nevertheless, I hope that despite this, he achieves huge success with his efforts.
Amid the hullabaloo over whether David Cameron will be prepared to debate against his political rivals this year in the run-up to the UK’s General Election, one thing that has not gained much attention yet is the possibility that a new term will enter the political language.
Mr Cameron has said that the debates cannot go ahead without the Green Party, and suggestions have been made that if it is decided to hold them without the Prime Minister, an empty podium will be provided should he change his mind. And so the practice of providing such an unattended lectern has been tentatively named ‘empty podiuming’.
This is of course a ghastly and unwieldy term which is highly unlikely to catch on, simply because it is too ugly to be taken seriously. However, Empty Podium itself sounds like a term which could metamorphose from being simply a description of what might be provided to a term which becomes inescapable as the campaign fires up.
Will it ever be more than a reference point for this election, or could it become a tactic of the future, that anybody who refuses to take part in something will be threatened with an Empty Podium. It is too early to say, of course, but this could be the genesis of a new term in the political vernacular.
Je Suis Charlie
Even though 2015 has only just started, I think that we might already have the word of the year. Following the horrifying events in Paris, the hashtag #jesuischarlie has taken off globally. And I am left wondering if there will be a more powerful new term coined during the remainder of 2015.
Use of #jesuischarlie is fascinating in a number of ways. Initially it showed solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo employees who were gunned down on January 7.
But for me it has now become so much more. To put #jesuischarlie in a Twitter post or other article, to put it on a T-shirt or just into your normal conversation, is to associate yourself with a global statement about freedom of speech, is to say that people will not be silenced just because somebody thought it reasonable to take a gun to those who would disagree with them. It is now a badge of belonging, of showing that we will all fight back against terror and not be afraid to say what we think. And its meaning will now stick as the marker of any statement of freedom of speech.
From a linguistic point of view, it demonstrates how language evolution is changing across all cultures. The fact that jesuischarlie is French is irrelevant, it is already an internationally understood term, good in any language. It is already capable of evolution, with #jesuisahmed appearing quickly on Twitter in tribute to Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim policeman who also died in the attack. And it is not fanciful to imagine #jesuis emerging as a permanent prefix, capable of taking countless other endings to make anti-terror statements.
This also shows how hashtags are becoming words in their own right. To emphasise the point, the American Dialect Society this week chose #blacklivesmatter as the word of 2014, referencing emotive protests across North America. Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society, said: “While #blacklivesmatter may not fit the traditional definition of a word, it demonstrates how powerfully a hashtag can convey a succinct social message.”
We can only hope that events in Paris will not be the precursor to a year of atrocities and that freedom of speech will not be threatened again in this way. But it is moving to see the way that millions have stood up to have their voices heard, and have found a new word to rally behind.
If you need any more proof that the very fabric of the English language is changing then I give you the Global Language Monitor as Exhibit A. More specifically, I give you the announcement of its word of the year. Triumphant this year is the <3 emoji.
It’s not even a word, I hear you cry. Au contraire. If we take a word to be a discrete unit of meaning, which when used by one person is understood by another, then any emoticon clearly fits the bill. And while like letters they are symbols, in terms of usage they are words because they express an idea and a meaning, and sometimes a quite complex and subtle meaning, providing context and commentary on what is being written in a very neat and efficient manner. They have become one of the ultimate shorthands in informal, and sometimes even formal, communication, and I even now hear ‘heart’ in spoken situations, where it seems to mean something distinct from like or even love, a slightly more trivial affection.
So what does all this mean for our beloved language. Well basically, its evolution gathers pace. In the past I have written about how technology is changing grammar and even parts of speech. Now it is influencing the symbols themselves that we use to write with, so that our basic alphabet is now expanding and taking on new characters.
Does this mean we are all going to start writing in pictures and will now express ourselves solely with smiley faces and pictures of foaming mugs of beer? No, undoubtedly not.
But as technology increasingly influences the way language is used, and English continues to proliferate as a lingua franca across the globe, emoticons and symbols will increasingly break down language barriers and become part of a universal language of the future. So for the fans of Esperanto, :(.
I have spent many happy months in Australia. My wife is Australian. I got married there. So it’s always good to see a good old Aussie term taking centre stage in the English language.
Australian rules football has always been a game of joyous thuggery, where men in tight shorts run incomprehensibly round a large field and knock each other over in the name of sport. And it has spawned the term to shirtfront, meaning to aggressively knock someone to the ground, usually by ramming them hard in the chest with your arm. Other definitions are available, but the end result is broadly the same. Opponent, in pain, lying on the ground.
But now the definition of shirtfront has widened after Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott threatened to shirtfront Rusisian President Vladimir Putin at an upcoming diplomatic event. Mr Abbott was rekindling a wider usage that had flourished briefly in the 1980s, but his quote led the Macquarie Dictionary, the authority on Australian English, to update its definition.
From January, the online edition will include definition “to confront (someone) aggressively with a complaint or grievance”. Dictionary editor Susan Butler said his statement had made dictionary editors realise “there was this older usage around, and we had not covered it, so now we’re catching up.”
This isn’t the first time that Toby Abbott has been at the centre of a change in the Macquarie Dictionary. Back in 2012, then Prime Minister Julia Gillard accused him of being a misogynist, a controversy which saw the word’s definition expanded to include prejudice against women, as well as downright hatred.
If Mr Abbott felt at all aggrieved by that decision be is probably feeling more buoyant about his latest contribution to his language’s heritage. I doubt he will feel the need to shirtfront a lexicographer any time soon.
There’s always a good language story to be had from Sweden. Keen to stress increasing sexual liberation across the country, a campaign has been launched to find a new word for something which currently doesn’t have its own term. The search is on for a word for female masturbation.
The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education launched a national search for a new word, and more than 1,000 suggestions poured in from the public. The list has now been narrowed down to 34 and next June the panel will decide whether ‘pulla’, ‘selfa’ or something else will emerge victorious.
Kristina Ljungros of the association said: “The absence of one commonly used word for female masturbation suggests that we still don’t have gender equality here in Sweden. Hopefully this is another step towards that.”
By this argument, the same could be said of England. An identical exercise could easily be carried out for this language, as it seems to be equally lacking linguistically in this respect. A recent Huffington Post piece helpfully suggested flicking the bean, or air out of the orchid, which I think just confiirms that English is as backwards as Swedish when it comes to this linguistic oversight.
So can you see a campaign being launched in the UK to come up with a suitable term? No, me neither. I guess, like so many other aspects of our modern lives, well have to wait for the Swedes to lead the way. Let’s just hope they don’t let IKEA have the final say-so. Billy Bookcase anyone?
Words can be incredibly powerful in the world of politics, so the US Republican party must be rubbing its hands together with glee at its linguistic triumph of the last few days.
Videos have emerged of economist Jonathan Gruber talking about President Obama’s flagship healthcare plan, known as Obamacare. Mr Gruber was one of the chief architects behind it, but in the videos, he is quoted as saying: “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass.” Subsequent videos of him citing the inability of Americans to understand the issues have emerged to really ram the point home.
And so Grubering has been born. Defined as lying to sell a political policy, the word is exploding across social media and the internet, with the Republicans seizing on it with delight. Swiftly derivatives are appearing, such as gruberish and gruberism. In fact, a whole family of words summing up the concept of lying and deceit as a political weapon to get a political bill to pass has now emerged, and shows no sign of stopping.
Words can be very powerful political tools to encapsulate a debate, they become a simple tool of reference. If a word such as this can stick in people’s minds, it will instantly serve a purpose which a lengthy speech might struggle to encapsulate. Democrats will probably be grateful it has emerged now, rather than in an election cycle, when a word can have the power to influence the result. Nevertheless, they will be hoping the word will have run its course by the time the presidential race begins in 2016. But my hunch is that this is a word that might prove to have more durability than that.