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.