As the football world bids farewell to Sir Alex Ferguson this weekend, it is worth nothing that it is not only his contribution to football that should be celebrated.
When he first shipped up at Old Trafford in 1986, nobody could have predicted that he would last until 2013. Equally, nobody would have believed you if you had said we would laud his contribution to the English Language on his departure.
But Sir Alex’s contribution to neologisms is legend. Perhaps his most famous phrase is ‘Squeaky Bum Time’, a phrase that refers to the sharp end of the football season and the nerves that emerge as the tension increases. It dates back 10 years and was given official recognition in 2005, while it is now a standard part of the lexicon for all fans when discussing any matter to do with the season’s conclusion.
The other time connection to the outgoing boss is Fergie Time, a rather pointed term not coined by the great man. This refers to the perception that Manchester United get more time added on at the end of games when they are losing than other teams, and that they often make use of this temporal largesse. Analysis has suggested that there is no basis in fact for this asssertion, but all football fans enjoy a good moan about bias being shown to rival teams, so the phrase will remain, even though Fergie himself has gone.
But you would never berate Sir Alex over these issues. After all, he is legendary in the football world for dishing out the hairdryer treatment, a particularly loud mode of berating players for not performing at their best.
So as Sir Alex disappears into the sunset, remember that it is not only the football world he has changed. He has also had a demonstrable effect on the language that we speak.
I am not a fan of going shopping. For me, it is functional, get in there, get what you need, and get out again. A browse round a bookshop is fun, of course, but that’s about it.
The rise of online shopping has changed all of that. On the one hand, you don’t need to go shopping, you can just do it on the computer. On the other, you can go shopping any hour of day or night, you are no longer spared just because the doors have been locked.
Now I’m sure we have all been guilty of going into shops, checking out a price, whipping out our phone to compare it to online competitors and then leaving to make that purchase from our living room. Maybe what we didn’t know was that we were ‘showrooming’.
Showrooming is defined as doing precisely what I have described, examining goods in a physical shop and then buying them cheaper online. When I say defined, of course, I don’t mean officially. Showrooming has not yet made it to the official annals of most dictionaries.
I am in a bit of a quandary about this word. I have often said that words emerge when there are new trends in need of a descriptor, and there is no doubt that this is a new activity and there is currently no adequate word in the language to encapsulate it. It is just that I can’t see anybody ever saying it. It feels like a term invented for the written media, for headline writers or analysts to use. Surely people will simply continue to say they are going shopping, even if they have no intention of actually buying anything while out. Surely people will use longer sentences if they want to go into details about what they have done, rather than using this particular word.
So while showrooming is likely to stick around for those who write about this phenomenon, I think it is unlikely to enter common speech for those who are actually doing it.
There have been many attempts over the years to redesign the traditional keyboard. Thus far, QWERTY has reigned supreme, and so a string of letters arranged for ease of typing has become the word by which the keyboard is known.
The latest challenger to this is designed with touch screens in mind and similarly takes its name from a string of letters in the arrangement, this time the opposite corner.
The KALQ keyboard is probably the only name that could have been chosen based on the arrangement, as frankly all the other lines produce unpronounceable gibberish, though I like the idea of the GTOJ keyboard challenging for typing supremacy. I wonder if the researchers made sure that there was at least one line which could be spoken to ensure their keyboard had a chance of being publicised.
Mind you, the combined brains of the University of St Andrews, the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Germany and Montana Tech in the US aren’t entirely obsessed with simplicity. They described the old design as trapping people in “suboptimal text entry interfaces”. Well quite.
Another thing that has emerged from this story is the phrase ‘thumb typing’ which is being treated as something linguistically new by the media, a fair point since it doesn’t seem to feature in online dictionaries yet. It obviously means typing with your thumb.
As technology evolves, who knows whether this mode of typing will become the new default, and thumb typing will simply become known as typing in the future, with finger typing then being needed as the word for the old fashioned sort. And as new devices come on the market, who can say what parts of our body we might end up typing with. And that could open up a whole new chapter of neologisms.
A couple of interesting developments in the housing market in the United States are set to make subtle changes to the English language.
In Seattle, there have been efforts to introduce a new kind of micro-housing as a way of saving space. Apodments, as they are called, are small living spaces in a block with access to shared kitchens – the perfect solution it would seem for young people looking for a cheap way to live.
But they are not so perfect for many in the city, with protest forming against plans to develop these Apodments. With Seattle seemingly the only place where they might spring up, their rejection might see a natty new housing word stifled at birth. But never say never – if Seattle can change the world of coffee drinking, then it may yet revolutionise apartment dwelling.
Meanwhile on the other side of the country, the Washington Business Journal has reported on a well-established housing term that could be set to bite the dust. According to a survey, an increasing number of housebuilders in the area are ditching the term ‘Master Bedroom’ because they say it is sexist or has connotations of slavery. ‘Owner’s Bedroom’ is being used instead.
Ignore the fact that owner’s bedroom simply doesn’t feel like it means the same thing – master bedroom implies the main room, owner’s bedroom is ultimately any bedroom, because the owner, logically, owns all of them. I agree with others who feel that this is political correctness gone potty. Yes, there are elements in English which are inherently sexist, and yes, there are times when it is important to be aware of that and change it where necessary.
But I remember years ago working on the subject of ‘unequal lexical pairs’ and considering ‘Master’ and ‘Mistress’ as examples where the feminine form of the word has wildly different meanings to the masculine one. In particular I suggested that ‘Mistress of Arts’ implied you’d be paying for them. ‘Mistress Bedroom’ doesn’t sound much better. So there are issues with the word Master. But I don’t think they really apply with Master Bedroom. I think that it’s a phrase where the male-ness of the word Master is actually irrelevant. For me, it simply means the biggest room, the gender question has simply never struck me as a problem.
So I see no reason for the phrase Master Bedroom to disappear. Unless you are buying an Apodment, of course.
There seems little doubt that when Google started promoting Glass, their wearable computer, they had one eye on the effect they would have on the English language. After all, the term Glass Explorers has already been coined for the early trailblazers, and doubtless the technology giants would be hoping for further linguistic developments in the months to come.
But the problem with introducing something new is that the pesky public does have a habit of coining epithets of its own. And so it is with Google Glass, and the early perception that some of the initial users are behaving in ways that are more than slightly irritating. Being Glassholes, in fact.
It’s early days for the word, but its usage is already being noted and is spreading, and seems very likely to stick. Why is it so successful? Basically, it’s because it’s funny. I mentioned it to somebody the other day and he burst out laughing. It takes that very English type of wordplay of rhyming one word with another, a trick which is always successful, and creates a perfect play on words. It encapsulates a huge amount of meaning in a very short space.
And wouldn’t it be great if the idea of glass rhyming with its buttock-related cousin could be extended to other well-known words and phrases. You’d never think the same way about a ‘glass half full’ person. People who ‘live in glass houses’ would have a very different kind of lifestyle. Even an innocent ‘glass of milk’ would be consumed in an altogether different manner. Anyway, enough. Time to stop glassing around and publish this.
Let’s immediately get one thing straight. If you’ve come here for an in-depth financial analysis of Bitcoins, you’re in the wrong place. But welcome anyway, have a look around. I’m sure you’ll find these offerings on financial haircuts, Greece or Fiscal Cliffs were worth the visit.
If you’re here for the more usual Wordability fare of finding out about new words, then let me tell you more. Bitcoin is not a new word per se, having first been used at the start of 2009. It emerged from research published the year before by Japanese developer Satoshi Nakamoto. But despite its history, the word is certainly novel for many of us, and its sudden emergence into the mainstream may see it being recognised as one of the words of the year.
So what is a Bitcoin? Basically, if I am understanding it correctly, it is a form of electronic currency, protected by a complex algorithm and limited to a maximum number of units. The reason you might have now heard of it is that investors are suddenly ploughing into them as the next potentially safe haven for their cash. Forget gold, it is said, Bitcoins are the new investment bling.
With prices rocketing from a few dollars to over $140, news outlets have been falling over themselves to explain them and debate them, while hackers have already been out to try and destroy them.
I clearly don’t profess to know what the future of Bitcoin is, and whether it will prove to be an investment flash in the pan or the future of money. But either way, it is now enjoying its moment in the sun, meaning that this is the year in which its place in the financial lexicon will be secured.
We have long been told that dinosaurs were big in stature but small on brain. That being true, it is a fair assumption that their linguistic ability consisted of loud, indiscriminate noises. It also means that the many different species living on Earth did not have contemporary names.
That’s why the discovery of new dinosaurs is always an exciting moment for the English language. A new, albeit very old, breed of dinosaur means a new piece of linguistic dexterity for the Palaeontologists involved. I always enjoy the thought that the name by which we subsequently know these creatures is something that would never have been near the consciousness of the animals themselves during their heyday.
Last year Wordability celebrated the discovery of the Nyasasaurus, and this year, it is actually time to mark a new pterosaur, rather than a dinosaur. The Vectidraco daisymorrisae was a small flying reptile. Its discovery came about when a five-year-old girl found a fossil on a beach on the Isle of Wight in 2009, with scientists now confirming its novelty.
The name Vectidraco means ‘Dragon from the Isle of Wight’, and daisymorrisae pays tribute the finder, Daisy Morris.
So a creature which flew around the earth millions of years ago is named after a land mass which probably didn’t exist then and a person who definitely didn’t. Not something which would ever have occurred to Vectidraco daisymorrisae during its lifetime.
I must admit to never having heard the word Canberra Bashing. I am a little ashamed of this, given my Australian wife and reasonable lengths of time spent in the country as a result. But no matter.
Canberra Bashing has been added to the Australian National Dictionary. This publication catalogues words which are quintessentially Australian and say something about the history and culture of the country, and lexicographers feel that Canberra Bashing is a term which fits the bill.
The word has two meanings: one is the act of criticising the Australian federal government and its beaurocracy, giving it a more generic meaning of knocking authority; the other is the more parochial act of criticising the city of Canberra and its inhabitants. I have been to the Australian capital once in my life and, as I recall, l was probably guilty of Canberra bashing on my return, albeit that I didn’t know there was a handy word which to describe it.
This is clearly an Australian word, with local resonance, so it is virtually certain that it will not become a part of vocabulary in the wider English-speaking word. However, it would be nice to think that bashing could start to take on suffix duties in the manner of a -gate or a -leaks. Imagine the bashing fun we could have by appending it to all manner of places and people who provoke our ire. It’s a whole new world of word formation which I am fully in favour of.
I also think that changes in Australian English really encapsulate the straight-talking nature of its people. A word localised to Canberra which has also just achieved official recognition by the Australian National Dictionary is the one used as a term for public servants. They are referred to as Pubes. It’s a great example of an apparently simple term which says so much about what people really think.
The media coverage of the latest Oxford Dictionary online update has reversed the usual trend. Newly-added words tend to dominate the headlines. But on this occasion, it is a redefinition that has captured people’s attention.
Previously, biker has been defined as: ‘A motorcyclist, especially one who is a member of a gang: a long-haired biker in dirty denims’. However, OED lexicographers have bowed to pressure from the biking community and removed the reference to grubbiness, with the new definition emerging as ‘A motorcyclist, especially one who is a member of a gang or group: a biker was involved in a collision with a car.’
While bikers are understood to be pleased with the decision, they may now have to deal with the fact that their mucky tendencies have been replaced in the definition by a slight on their safety record. I look forward to a future definition with the example ‘A clean-cut respectable-looking biker rode along the street and nothing of note happened at all’.
Mind you, if the OED wants to think about redefinitions, maybe it should start to ponder the meaning of the word ‘new’. After all, these quarterly updates always trumpet the new words being given status and inevitably, many of them are not that new, and I end up venting my anger about archaic words being celebrated for their novelty.
But I do feel that this quarter’s update has hit a new temporal low. As a cricket fan, I know that Baggy Green has become popularised in the last 20 years. But Australian cricketers have been donning them since time immemorial once they make the national team, so to acknowledge it now seems bizarre.
Even more bizarre is the arrival of Torch Relay and Olympic Flame. I know these really hit public consciousness during the London Olympics in 2012, but there were genuine new words associated with the torch relay such as Mother Flame, rather than terms, and indeed an event, that have been around for decades.
Or to use another apparently new word, I think this update is a bit of a mare.
A new year, a new dance, and a new challenger for the biggest craze on the Internet. The Harlem Shake is the biggest new thing on the block.
It has shot to prominence in the last couple of weeks, even though the music which has inspired it has been around since last May, which is when the song Harlem Shake was released by US DJ Baauer. It is only now, when scores of people have picked it and posted their own dances to the track on YouTube, that the concept and phrase have boomed.
So why does it work? I think it is because it ticks all the boxes for something to go viral. Fundamentally, it is easy to do and anybody can take part. A typical Harlem Shake video consists of 15 seconds of one person doing the shoulder-rolling dance, usually wearing a mask. Then everybody who was previously in shot but static is suddenly seen dancing along in equally manic fashion. And that’s basically it.
Of course the fact that it’s ludicrous helps. It is as silly as planking or Tebowing, ridiculous activities that people can partake in and share with their friends. And it has also picked up the Gangnam Style ability to get celebrities to take part, and we are already awash with football teams and other well-known groups of people doing their own Harlem Shake to get in on the act. It feels like Gangnam Style all over again.
So it is no shock that this phenomenon has taken off in the way that it has. And that means that Harlem Shake will inevitably feature in the shake-up at end of 2013 when it comes to discussing the words of the year.