Tag Archives: politics

Truthinews Takes Truthiness Further

I have never heard of American comedian Stephen Colbert. I know nothing of his satirical shows in the US, and I was oblivious of his contribution to the lexicon. So when I read this week that he had coined a new word in one of his on-air satirical pieces, I was not entirely sure whether it would merit further consideration.

But on looking into it, I found that Mr Colbert has previous in this area, and his newest contribution is actually an effort to take his previous triumph and give it a new spin. In 2005, in his first broadcast, he used the word ‘Truthiness’, the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true over concepts or facts known to be true. Other obscure meanings of the word have been recorded, but so successful was this meaning that it quickly became used by many others and the American Dialect Society named it the word of the year.

So when Mr Colbert himself introduced a derivative of truthiness, I had to sit up and take notice. He defined ‘Truthinews’ as the process of news channels telling viewers what they want to hear and then reporting their own opinions back to them as facts, often inspired by surveys.

He said: “Luckily now truthinews is here to usher in a new standard of broadcasting. First, we ask you what you think the news is, then report that news you told us back to you, then take an insta-Twitter poll to see if you feel informed by yourself, which we will read on the air until we reach that golden day  when we are so responsive to our viewers that cable news is nothing but a mirror, a logo and a news crawl.”

We now sit back and see whether this word enjoys the same success as its ancestor:

Don’t Fall Over The Fiscal Cliff

There is a late entrant in the word of the year stakes. More likely, there is a front-runner for the 2013 crown. It is becoming hard to avoid the Fiscal Cliff.

The Fiscal Cliff is a term that has been coined to describe a looming financial precipice in the United States. It is a confluence of coming togethers of the end of certain tax laws and a decrease in Government spending, and commentators are worried about the effect on the US economy if legislation is not passed which could prevent all of this from happening.

Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, is being credited with coining the phrase, having used it in evidence to the House Financial Services Commission at the end of February. He actually isn’t the first, as it appeared in analysis of George Bush’s tax cuts two years after the end of his presidency. But there is no doubt that Mr Bernanke’s usage put the term on the linguistic map.

That said, it is only in the last few weeks that it has found its way into general conversation and started appearing in earnest across the media. Given that the fiscal cliff is just around the corner, that is not really a surprise.

Maybe what is a surprise is that the term has simply been accepted and is being used by everybody, probably without really understanding it. I feel the same way about it as I did about haircut entering the vernacular last year – a term that was popular among economic commentators crossed over into the mainstream and using it seemed to confer some kind of special, inside knowledge on the users, it is almost said with a nod and a wink to those also on the inside.

For the rest of us, we hear it and then have to go and look it up and try and understand it. Shorthand phrases are good for encapsulating stories and letting everybody know what the subject is, but when they are used regularly in conversation as if everybody knows what they mean, then that can become annoying.

Thank goodness the Simpsons have been around to help explain it.

Mission Imborisable? Nothing’s Impossible

There is no ignoring Boris Johnson. The Mayor of London, feted by many as a future Prime Minister, has stolen the headlines with a pair of appearances at the Tory party conference in Birmingham.

At the start of his first appearance on Monday night, he was prefaced by a video celebrating his re-election as London head honcho earlier this year. The video was preface by the caption ‘Mission Imborisable’.

A headline writer’s dream? Absolutely. An attempt to get a new word into the dictionary? Absolutely not. And yet…

As Boris coverage increases, and if stories about him and Downing Street continue to be written, the temptation to carry on using Imborisable in connection with any tale of Johnson-esque derring-do may prove irresistible to sub-editors up and down the land.

So while I do not see a future in which the OED features a word loosely defined as ‘an unlikely achievement by Boris Johnson’, I do think this is a word that will be around as a piece of political shorthand for the foreseeable future. And that is already an Imborisable achievement.

Another Fine Shambles For Romney

Mitt Romney is rapidly emerging as Wordability’s most unlikely hero. Who knew! He has already charmed us with his caring attitude towards his dog, and delighted us by not knowing the name of the country he is trying to lead.

Now, as he winds his gaffe-strewn way across the globe, to ensure that everyone knows exactly who he is before November’s election, he might be wishing he had stayed at home. His questioning of London’s readiness and enthusiasm for the Olympics, followed by increasingly desperate attempts to limit the damage, rapidly saw his trip labelled a Romneyshambles.

It’s wonderful to see a clever neologism like this making some headway, building as it does on Omnishambles’ re-emergence into public consciousness earlier this year. In a single word, the would-be president’s efforts are distilled, summed up and spat out, and it satisfies every opponent’s desire for a linguistic stick with which they can beat him.

Mr Romney must have thought his surname made him pun-proof. Who knew!

Is Amercia the Key to American Victory?

The power of single words can be the difference between election victory and defeat in the United States. At the start of election year, Wordability considered which words would emerge as the key ones during 2012. But nobody could have predicted that word may prove to be a typo.

But so it is for confirmed Republican candidate Mitt Romney. To celebrate his nomination, his campaign team released their ‘With Mitt’ iPhone app, a chance to append one of 14 pre-written slogans to a picture and then use social media to share the picture and spread the message.

Well the team behind it got one thing right – the power of social media to spread ideas is unsurpassed. The problem comes when the thing that you are spreading is a cock-up. Or in this case, the inability of a campaign team to correctly spell the name of the country their man is trying to govern. Because one of the slogans promised ‘A Better Amercia’.

The hasty re-release of the app, and the assurances by the team that it was one of those things, completely misses the point. The internet had already seized on the gaffe, Twitter went #amercia crazy, blogs were set up in its name as Amercia jokes mushroomed across our interconnected globe. All of which serves to not only confirm the power of social media to get a message across but reinforced Wordability’s contention that individual words have the power to shape a debate and a campaign.

It may well be that this is just a passing story which will be forgotten by next week. But there is a chance it may not, and that instead, the single word Amercia will be drip fed out by opponents, commentators and satirists as the perfect reference point if they want to attack Mr Romney. It could easily become the word that defines the campaign because it will call up so many associations, ideas and sly giggles simply by being dropped into conversation. Just saying that one word will prove to be enough to make a point.

It has already proved to be more lasting in people’s minds than any official slogans. Barack Obama is using the single word Forward as his campaign slogan for 2012, but it seems not to have resonated at all, and certainly not in the way that simply saying ‘Change’ four years ago was enough to turn his supporters into a quivering mass.

The most delicious irony of all in the Romney affair is that it occurred in the same week that America’s latest spelling bee champion was crowned. Fourteen-year-old Snigdha Nandipati triumphed by successfully spelling ‘guetapens,’ a French-derived word that means ambush, snare or trap. Mr Romney will be hoping that his app mishap will not prove to be the linguistic guetapens which keeps him out of the White House.

Roll Your Eyes at Tardy Swift Boats

Heard of eye rolling, green technology and swift boats? Of course you have. They’ve been around for years. Or maybe not. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I don’t quite get the Oxford English Dictionary’s policy for their quarterly updates.

In their latest announcement, many of the words now added to the online Oxford English Dictionary seem reassuringly familiar, and not typical of new words at all. The definition for Swift Boat even cites its appearance in the 2004 US Election as the time it came into public consciousness.

Now I know that the OED policy states that words have to have been used for a certain length of time and in a sufficient variety of places for inclusion in the dictionary, and as the official arbiter of language, this is clearly the right policy. The OED is the ultimate record of language, and is clearly not going to validate some of the words which appear fleetingly and then disappear again almost without trace.

But I find the examples above bizarre, as they are all words which have been common for some time, and if I said I had been rolling my eyes over the situation, nobody would have struggled to understand me. It just strikes me that when it is being trumpeted that new words have been added to a dictionary, there should be something vaguely novel about them.

In fact, the recent financial buzz phrases, such as Robin Hood Tax and Debt Ceiling, seem to have been accepted at just the right time. It feels like they have been around for just short enough that their welcome to the OED fraternity is perfectly timed. More of the same, please.

My favourite word on the list was one I was unfamiliar with. A minimoon is a short break taken by a married couple, typically as a prelude to a longer holiday. I probably should have known it. It’s been around since the 1970s. So not so new after all.

An Omnishambles at the Heart of Downing Street?

When I heard that the recent run of Coalition policies was being described as an Omnishambles, I thought that a great new political word had been coined. The fact that I was wrong says a great deal about the political animals currently at the top in the UK.

Labour leader Ed Miliband’s use of Ominshambles during Prime Minister’s Questions in April was not a new piece of linguistic dexterity coined just for the occasion. He was actually quoting political comedy The Thick of It, and in particular, its spin meister Malcolm Tucker.

The good news for Mr Miliband is that the word has stuck. The Omnishambles Budget, the Omnishambles of other recent incidents – this word summing up a number of things going wrong simultaneously is now appearing on radio and in print. It shows once again the power that one word can have to encapsulate a mood and dominate a political discusson.

But what does the rush to use Ominshambles tell use about the users? Are they using it because it is perfect and truly sums up the current situation? Or are they dong it simply to be trendy, to show they are in the know about hip political comedies which are clearly very familiar to our political leaders and they want to be part of the club.

If it is the latter, which seems likely, especially as I have heard it being delivered with an almost smug smirk, then I am happy to admit that I am not in the know and don’t have to slavishly jump on a bandwagon to show that I am part of any clique.

Omnishambles has the power to be a very useful piece of shorthand for the Opposition, and if it enters common usage, then this is a linguistic game well played. But if its in-joke nature annoys people and makes them feel cut off from our politicians and the joke they are sharing with each other, then its usage could backfire. In fact, it could reinforce the sense that behind closed doors, the leading politicians are all great mates, performing for the cameras but sharing interests away from them, and that could serve to highlight the distance people are increasingly feeling from the goings-on in Westminster.

Abadingding The Thing In The Philippines

I love it when a great word comes from an unexpected source. And I really love it when a word is so pleasing on the ear that you find you keep on wanting to use it. Such a word is Abadingding.

Politics is of course fertile territory for neologisms, and the coining of words to encpsulate specific ideas is a vital tool for getting your message across. So it is in the Philippines, where campaigners are trying everything they can think of to fight against rising fuel prices.

The current subject of their ire is parliamentarian Herminida Abad, who is accused by activists of ignoring demands for her to start deliberations on a number of bills which could bring an end to the increases.

And so the gloriously named fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) has coined Abadingding, defining it as “complete refusal to heed the people’s clamour in the hope it will wither away.”

The group is rather good at coining new words, with this effort coming hot on the heels of Noynoying, their tribute to the apparent inertia of President Beningo ‘Noynoy’ Aquino and defined as “doing nothing even if you have something to do”.

Noynoying is already taking physical form in Philippines, with scores of people brazenly sitting around doing nothing in public places to make a point.

Are these words great examples of lexical inventiveness being used effectively in political campaigning? Absolutely. Will they ever cross the borders of the Philippines to receive international lexical acclamation? Probably not.

But just imagine if a leading politician in the UK or the US ever found themselves accused of Noynoying or Abadingding when they failed to deliver on vital legislation. What a colourful linguistic moment that would be.

Frasier’s Effect on The Special Relationship

David Cameron’s visit to the United States to see Barack Obama has brought the phrase “special relationship” back into the daily news agenda.

It has never actually left since first being coined by Winston Churchill in 1946 to describe the Anglo-US connection, but as it enjoys one of its weeks in the sun, the question inevitably comes up over whether the term is still valid.

The two leaders seem to have been quite keen not to utter the exact phrase, though they did use the words in a different order in a joint article in The Washington Post. Instead, phrases such as “essential relationship” and “rock solid alliance” have been used in speeches instead.

So are we going to witness the birth of a new phrase, a linguistic reimagining of The Special Relationship for the 21st century? In short, I think not. Frankly, so long as relations between the UK and US remain strong, I am not sure that there is a phrase which does the job better. “Special Relationship” captures both strength, affection and the importance each country places on each other in a way that “rock solid alliance” simply doesn’t.

But my feelings about the phrase are jaundiced in a way that may just be limited to me and my wife (hereafter Dr Wordability). Like all married couples, there are certain words and phrases which we use between ourselves which mean little to anybody else.

If we find somebody odd, peculiar in any way or annoying in some respect, we describe them as “special”. We didn’t actually make this up. Again, like many personal linguistic habits, this is derived from television and an episode of Frasier called The Dinner Party. With Frasier and Niles suffering torment as their carefully planned dinner party slowly unravels, Frasier asks his father Martin, “Dad, do you think we’re odd.”

After a pause, Martin replies: “No, you’re not odd. You’re just special.” (You can watch the moment on this clip, it comes at three minutes 50:)

So armed with this, what do you think of the phrase “The Special Relationship” now? If either leader describes the other as “Special”, do they mean it in the context of more than 70 years of cordiality? Or have they just been watching a sitcom?

Is Ineptocracy the Future of Government?

Writing in the Guardian this week, sketch writer Simon Hoggart claimed that Labour MP Paul Flynn had invented a new word. He wrote: “11.55: Paul Flynn coins new word for what the coalition has created: “An ineptocracy of greed.” Won’t catch on.”

Unfortunately for Mr Hoggart, he was wrong on two counts. Firstly, Mr Flynn didn’t coin the word. And secondly, it already has.

Ineptocracy has been around very fleetingly for at least 10 years, but seems to have picked up a head of steam towards the end of 2011 and is now starting to increase in usage both in blogs and on Twitter.

It is not yet in any official dictionaries but is being defined by users as “A system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.” Other, simpler definitions, suggest it is simply a ruling government which is incompetent.

It is certainly gaining traction in the United States, and Googling “ineptocracy obama” yields quite a number of results, suggesting that opponents are beginning to fix on the word as a way of encapsulating their negativity towards his presidency.

Mr Flynn is possibly the first person to be using the word in the UK, and always in relation to the Coalition. As well as his mention this week, he also write a blog last October called Building the Ineptocracy, but it seems he was responding to the growing usage of it from across the Atlantic and wanted to see if he could tie the current UK Government into it.

So will ineptocracy stick? There are factors against that. On a prosaic level, it is difficult to say and even to spell. I find I keep stopping to think about it as I type this piece. The fact that it doesn’t easily trip off tongue or keyboard may limit its growth. It may also be limited because it sounds quite specialised and a word owned by political writers and experts.

But I can see it growing as a shorthand way for bloggers and commentators to describe what they see as failed governments, so I can see ineptocracy gaining some official dictionary recognition later this year. And if a campaigning politician should pick up on it and throw it into a speech, then that validation will be very rapid indeed.