So Word of the Year season has started, and Collins dictionary is first off the mark with Photobomb as its choice for 2014. Explaining its choice, it says that photobombing has come of age this year, with the habit of popping up unexpectedly in the back of people’s photos exemplified by Benedict Cumberbatch and The Queen among others this year.
Collins lexicographer Ian Brookes said that the word was an undeniable winner and had been tracked for a couple of years, adding: “Its vastly increased prominence in 2014 shows the power of media and sporting events to publicise a word and bring it into wider use.”
Second place went to Tinder, a dating app, while Bakeoff, as in the hit BBC cooking show, came third.
This depressing list highlights the conclusion I have rapidly been coming to over the last few months. After some excellent years for language fans, I think that 2014 has been sadly lacking in terms of great new words being coined, or even old words getting a new lease of leaf. Part of me can’t help feeling that photobomb has been given this accolade because of Selfie’s success last year. So often has it subsequently been quoted as the word of 2013, getting in early with another popular form of imagery spread by social media could be construed as trying to ride on its coat tails.
The fact that second place goes to an app and third place to a TV show simply reinforces to me that choosing words of the year for 2014 will continue to prove particularly difficult, and that we may not look back on 2014 as a vintage year for new words.
Sport has always been fertile ground for new words. and we sports fans are known to appropriate the names of our heroes or villains as words to describe particular achievements or ways of playing. Dictionaries have even been known to follow suit, with Lionel Messi recently finding himself lionised by lexicographers as his name came to encapsulate a level of sporting perfection.
During his recent troubles in north-east England, it is unlikely that beleaguered Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has been thinking much about his contribution to the English language. However, his surname has taken on a raft of new connotations in recent months, and he is unlikely to be best pleased.
Over the last few months, Geordies have been discussing the concept of being Pardewed. To Be Pardewed means to have previously been a great player and then to have lost all your talent and ability while playing under Mr Pardew’s tutelage, or to be a player of great potential who has simply not fulfilled it. To ‘celebrate’ their manager’s achievements, local journalists are even now writing articles about the best players to have been Pardewed over the years.
Pardewed is currently a local word, used almost exclusively in the part of the world where Newcastle dominate. But when you think about it, it is quite a useful neologism. We all have experience of bad managers in all walks of life, people who have shown incredible ability to get the worst out of people, destroy their confidence and end up creating a shell of the person that employee could have been.
Alan Pardew’s legacy at Newcastle looks increasingly likely to be a negative one. From a linguistic point of view, wouldn’t it be great at least if he could leave a mark on the English language as one of his parting gifts.
It’s been some time since I have felt compelled to write about the issue of gay marriage, largely because politicians have refrained from trying to coin new words to describe these unions.
However, Utah Congressman Kraig Powell has become the latest politician to show that he simply doesn’t get it. The Republican has suggested that the best way to get round a current round of delays in the Supreme Court regarding gay marriage is to create a new word, suggesting this will solve the problem. His suggestion is that such unions be called Pairages.
My view on this remains exactly as it did last time I castigated a politician for suggesting an alternative word, in that case the word being Sarriage. The act of creating a new word automatically confers a different status on the act, thereby removing the equality that legislation legalising it is designed to give it. What is always presented as a neat way to solve administrative problems is actually a way to deny people the rights they are fighting for.
Hopefully this latest neologism will go the way of all the others and be nothing more than an idea that never gets any traction. That will leave courts and politicians free to get on with the important task of ensuring that everybody has the same rights as everybody else when they have found their perfect match.
It’s hardly surprising that the recent scandal over the hacking of embarrassing photos of celebrities has garnered so much attention. Pictures of stars such as Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton, wearing only what nature endowed them with, have gone viral across the globe, as have the investigations and accusations over how this could have happened.
One sideline to all of this from the Wordability perspective is that it has added a little nugget to the English language. I will freely admit to never having heard the term Fap before, but fortunately the Urban Dictionary is on hand to tell me that it is a slang term for masturbation.
Fap has ended up being used to to help create the term to describe this whole affair . The Fappening, a blend of Fap and Happening, has been coined as the catch-all title for this story, and it is now being used across the internet, in headlines and stories, as the key term by which to refer to the scandal. It has stuck because it makes it feel like a carefully stage-managed event, which of course it was. However, I’m sure it is a word that those directly affected by events will not take kindly to, which is perfectly understandable, potentially adding further distress to how they must feel about what has happened.
Fappening is not a word destined for dictionaries or longevity, but will certainly be used when we are summing up 2014 and looking back on the events which shaped the year.
And I am extremely grateful that linguistically, it didn’t follow usual protocol applied to scandals. Fapgate would have sounded so wrong.
Selfies have become inescapable over the last few months, and with their ubiquity has come variations concerning among others farmers and bottoms.
Now, the recent trend for selfies involving groups of people has spawned its own word. Usies (pronounced uss-ees) has been coined for the images which have been becoming increasingly prevalent since the famous Ellen DeGeneres shot of Hollywood royalty at the Oscars earlier this year.
Ellen DeGeneres’ famous Oscar photo
The word was first used last year but is only now coming into consciousness and wasn’t really known when the Oscars took place. However the growing number of shared selfies now means that the need for the word is greater, hence its eventual emergence into more regular usage.
“Usies are a growing trend that I think have far more social value than selfies,” said Michal Ann Strahilevitz, a professor of marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.
I actually think Professor Strahilevitz has a point. When I was writing about selfie being named word of the year last year, I was slightly despondent as I felt it described a slightly fractured and narcisstic society, obsessed with self at the cost of community.
While self-promotion is still at the heart of the usie, it is more about the people you are pictured with, the group rather than the individual. Is society moving towards greater unity and community again, rather than an obsession with self? The emergence of a new word is clearly flimsy evidence on which to base such an assertion, but if society does feel more cohesive and joined up in a couple of years’ time, it might be interesting to look back and see whether this linguistic trend really did mark a turning point.
Posted in Wordability In Brief
Tagged belfie, definition, Ellen DeGeneres, english, felfie, language, new_words, OED, pope, real_word, selfie, usie
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
Let’s get one thing straight immediately. I am a huge fan of Countdown. I have been watching it on and off since its debut on Channel 4 in 1982, and though I seldom catch it now, I still like to test myself when I get the chance.
I appeared on the show in 1986, and still have regrets all these years later. A combination of an excellent opponent and the arrogance of my over-confident youth conspired to send me spinning to defeat in a contest I led twice. I still get shivers when I hear the word Spearhead, the conundrum which finally ended my challenge. I know I let myself down at the end. Rather than sitting there smiling warmly, happy just to have taken part, my expression was a bewildering mixture of sulking and fury over the fact that I had actually lost. Not exactly what the tea-time audience expects and something which in hindsight I should have handled somewhat better.
But no matter. The reason for this diversion into my personal Countdown hell is because Dictionary Corner has moved with the times, and from now on, the validity of words will no longer be checked using a printed volume. Instead, Susie Dent and her assorted helpers will use Oxford Dictionaries Online to see whether the words put forward by contestants should be allowed to stand.
I warmly welcome this move. It means that rather than relying on a book, which by the nature of language is out of date while it is still on the printing press, contestants will now be able to offer words which are current and used and accepted by Oxford’s lexicographical powers. So expect to see Selfie put forward on the show pretty soon.
While there will doubtless be complaints, and the linguistic luddites among us will decry this as further evidence of the death of the English language, we should ignore their complaints. As I have said many times, language is a living, breathing entity, owned by its users, and if its users have deemed that a word is now part of the language, well how can Countdown beg to differ.
This move might actually help to sell that message. The growth and evolution of the dictionary is not necessarily something that a lot of people think about. By making the changing nature of language central to a popular programme like Countdown, it will increase awareness of how language develops and evolves and how vital it is that those changes are tracked and recorded. If this move helps to reinforce that message, then Countdown will have done a great deal more than just offer an entertaining diversion of an afternoon.