Trump Gives Us Food For Thought

In a week in which an egg has become the most liked post in the history of Instagram, it seems appropriate that a mistaken Donald Trump Tweet about food should have become one the most parodied of the week.

With the partial government shutdown in the US still ongoing, the President boasted about the fast food feast he served to his visitors from American College Football team the Clemson Tigers. However, the internet went into a predictable frenzy of delight when he described the thousand ‘hamberders’ he had brought in for his guests.

Typical online meltdown ensured, as people scrambled to come up with hilarious definitions of hamberder.

And of course, Mr Trump has form here, as many remembered his Covfefe fiasco and suggested serving a cup of it to go along with his imaginary new food.

Is all of this funny? Yes, I suppose so. Does it get a bit tiresome after a while? Yes, absolutely. A part of me just gets a bit fed up with internet wags jumping on every typo, error or other slight misjudgement to race online and show just how clever they are.

Of course these errors can be used for satirical purpose, and the ingenuity that’s out there is often amusing and pointed. But when there are so many significant issues around the world, does the obsession with eggs and misspelt hamburgers signify that people are now totally disengaged from things which matter? Or are we so bound up with the problems of everyday life that any excuse to escape will be leapt upon? I’m not trying to be a curmudgeon here, but I am just a bit bored of knowing that every time somebody significant makes a slight error, the internet reflex will go into overdrive to take advantage of it as people chase not to be left behind.

Maybe it is an example of Politainment, a word which has been around for some time and means the use of elements of PR or other entertainment norms to make political points. It wasn’t a word I had thought of much but I came across an opinion piece by a Colorado-based lawyer which seemed appropriate, given the narrative of the week.

Away from the internet, one other language story which has engaged people this week has been the release of a dictionary of Yorkshire terms, researched painstakingly by historian Dr George Redmonds, who died last year. His work has been completed and put online, allowing people to look up bizarre and unusual Yorkshire terms from years gone by.

If you’re interested, a Gripe Egg is the term for the egg of a Griffin. So maybe I should create a picture of one of those to see if I can become next week’s Instagram sensation.

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An Awks Week for All

It’s been an awkward week for many people. It started with the Golden Globes, and the meeting of present and possibly future James Bond, Daniel Craig and Idris Elba. The photo of the two of them together, with the single word ‘Awks’, was one of the dominant images of the day:

What is particularly Awks about embedding the above tweet is that the word Awks disappears and you have to click on the tweet itself to see the Awkwardness in all its glory. But at least that represents the first time I have ever used the word Awks in any sort of company, and while it has been common across social media for some time, and has even made it to Oxford Dictionaries Online (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/awk), the Bondesque tweet certainly gave it a new lease of life this week.

Awkwardness was certainly the order of the day in the UK Parliament this week, as the Brexit debate rolled back into view. And it wasn’t so much the coining of new words which dominated linguistic debate, but more the reappearance of a very old word, as the controversial decision to allow an amendment to the Brexit procedure allowed Jacob Rees-Mogg to question the meaning of the word forthwith in John Bercow’s interpretation of parliamentary procedure. Cue parliament getting derailed into a discussion about nuances of meaning and Twitter comedians throwing the word forthwith into many of their utterances. Even TV commentators got into the act, debating the meaning of forthwith on the BBC rather than the substance of the issues facing the UK instead. It could hardly be said that a word of Middle English origin made it to social media popularity ‘forthwith’, but it has now finally arrived.

An attempt this week to coin a new word seems unlikely to catch on because it is just too awkward. In the United States. sports agent Scott Boras has discussed options for different types of contracts for top players and suggested the ‘Swellopt’. This is a type of contract that changes as it goes on and can be of benefit to the player or the club. Or as he explained it to Ken Rosenthal on Fox: “For the club, if the player performs well, the club can opt in (contract swells). For the player, if the club doesn’t opt in, the player has the choice to continue with the contract (swell) or opt out. It’s a swell option for both.” Clear as mud then.

Bit of awkwardness for me after my posting last week. My daughter has now pointed out to me that she uses the word Yeet to mean Yes, which means I did her a disservice when I suggested that she is joining the masses of people putting meaningless words in random order, but also suggests that the definitive meaning of Yeet is still to be fixed. She responded by telling me about the issuing of an Apology Project on instagram, a concept which seems to be a deeply thought out apology for a perceived social media slight. On initial search, this doesn’t seem to be a wide practice, but if anyone can correct me on this, then I owe her an apology project.

An awkward subject? The name for research into human waste. There is currently no specific term for it, so Professor Aadra Bhatt has suggested In Fimo, derived from the Latin Fimus meaning, fairly obviously, dung. The Verge has got so excited about this development it has devoted an entire article to it. I prefer to keep the pages of Wordability clean, so just offer the link instead.

To return to Brexit to finish, even with the UK set to leave the European Union, maybe there is still away for the UK’s influence to continue to take over. Henning Lobin, director of the Leibniz Institute for the German language, gave an interview to Deutsche Wells in which he admitted that Anglicisms are continuing to creep into the German language, with words such as Clickbait and Bingewatching being recognised as part of the language. He said that while the overall integrity of German is not currently under threat, “it’s definitely susceptible…many terms come from things that were first invented, discovered and named in an English-speaking environment.”

So the UK may be leaving Europe, but its language is being left behind as an increasingly dominating force. And that could be awkward for everyone.

A New Year’s Resolution

A Gap Year is the standard term for a year off. I’d like to claim that the near 12-month hiatus in writing any new entries for Wordability is the result of a life-changing time away in which I have visited countless new places, met hordes of fascinating new people and learned to grow my own vegetables.

Sadly, none of the above is true. The simple fact is, writing Wordability had stopped being fun. When I started the blog, back in 2011, I knew there would always be enough material to keep it fresh. Its remit was to pick up new words as they emerged and write about where they came from, how they were being utilised, and whether they appeared to have the stamina to remain part of the ever-changing English Language. And more than 200 posts later, this blog has fulfilled that remit.

Last year I found that the constant trawl for new words was becoming a chore, or when I did see something I was convinced was novel, it actually turned out to have been around for two or three years, thereby breaking the slightly draconian rules I had created for myself when the blog started. And so I got out of the habit.

But the bug to be part of the conversation about language remained, and it was helped by the realisation that since this is my blog, then I can amend the rules I use to decide whether a word can be featured. So what if a word has been used for a year or more when I first come across it? It’s still pretty new, and still represents change and creativity in English, and is therefore worthy of consideration.

So, I thought to myself, rather than constantly hunting for newsworthy items, and only writing about them if they fit strict criteria, what about simply celebrating things which are new to me or other people, even if they are not freshly minted. And while I’m at it, how about removing the pressure I sometimes placed on myself to get something out as soon as I came across it, and instead simply write one post a week that covers whatever I have seen over the last seven days. Now that sounds a lot more entertaining.

So what I have seen this week? Well, I have decided not to hark back to the words of last year, though I did enjoy the American Dialect Society’s various words of the year, mostly because their slang word of the year was Yeet, a word my daughter often uses when sending me messages, for no apparent reason. Entertainingly, she had been using it with no idea for what it meant, and seemed uninterested when I told her it is an ‘indication of surprise or excitement’. This raised a wider concern to me that people may simply be putting random words onto instant messages without worrying overly about what any of it means, which is slightly perturbing for the future of communication in general.

I have also decided to leave Donald Trump and Brexit well alone this week. I am confident that over the course of the next 12 months, they will contribute reams of material to me, as they continue to dominate political landscapes on either side of the Atlantic.

However, veganism has featured prominently in my mind, largely because I thought I had seen a new generic word for Vegan Cheese. Sky News used the term Sheese to describe this product this week, but on further investigation, it looks like Sheese is simply one vegan cheese product, and not a catch-all for the category.

Having said that, a generic term for vegan cheese would prove quite useful, on the basis there isn’t one at the moment. Vegan cheese eaters spotted this a couple of years ago, and an online movement to rename it Gary was born. Hard to imagine really how this didn’t catch on. But while we wait to see whether further first names are hijacked to become monikers for vegan fare (“Do you want some melted Gary on that fried Bert?”), it is worth nothing that the term ‘plant-based’ instead of vegan is beginning to be used with increasing frequency, primary as a way of countering the ire with which veganism is greeted by some. Veganuary is in full swing now, and while it is yet another of those remodelled months which has so irked me in the past, it does demonstrate that words about what we eat are set to dominate and evolve as the next 12 months passes.

As people are happy to say, we live in interesting times. The English language is bound to reflect that as the year progresses, and it will be fun to see what changes.

Time to stop Micro-Cheating

Dear Wordability readers. I feel I owe you an apology. I have been neglecting you these last few months. Yes I know that Donald Trump got me back into action last week, but that was after an absence of three months. Aside from that I have been cheating on you in a big way, concentrating on other distractions and not keeping you up to date with the latest new words emerging in the English language.

This year, I pledge to do better, to be more faithful. I’ll try not to cheat on you at all. Well maybe a little a bit of Micro-cheating perhaps.

Micro-cheating is the new kid on the relationship block. Coined by Australian psychologist Melanie Schilling, it means acting in small, what might seem insignificant ways, but which when added up constitute a greater cheating crime than the sum of its parts. Leaving heart emojis on a friend’s Facebook post? Storing somebody’s number in your phone under an alias? Sharing a private joke with an ex? Not writing a Wordability post because you are reading a different blog about the English language? (OK, I made that one up)

I see the point of this. In today’s new interconnected world, where we have so many touchpoints with other people, albeit of a more superficial nature than we had before, there are many more opportunities to betray inappropriate desires and feelings.

But there has been a backlash against the term, with many suggesting that it opens the way for controlling and abusing characters to further strengthen their grip on their partners by forbidding behaviour which could also be construed as innocent and harmless. People have always had secrets, harmless flirtations and the like. Does the fact that technology now lays them barer mean that they should be demonised? Many cyber column inches have already been devoted to debates over the subject, and they show little sign of going away.

All of which goes to show that whichever side of the micro-cheating debate you are on, it is a word which clearly describes a mode of behaviour familiar to many because it has landed with a punch and got people talking. It has filled a semantic need and may therefore have staying power in the language.

And of course it has reminded me to cheat on you less from now on.

English in the Shithole

Back in the day when Wordability was just a twinkle in my eye, there was no way I would have written the above headline. After all, certain words were simply taboo, and any self-respecting publication would have an asterisk policy in place and would give serious thought to whether the asterisks themselves were acceptable in such a prominent place.

Not any more. Now, apparently shithole is journalistically acceptable. And while it is generally regarded as being unacceptable language for a president, its general appearance across the world’s media last week in its unexpurgated form signalled that for swear words, the landscape has now changed.

The reality is, that our swear words have undergone a metamorphosis over the last few years, so that those things which were taboo to say and write when I was growing up, are now regarded as acceptable, normal, not even that shocking any more. Shithole is clearly de rigeur, annoyed people say they are ‘pissed’ on TV programmes all the time, ‘bloody’ and ‘bollocks’ seem to be barely swear words at all.

And as for the language my five-year-old uses, if I’d used words like ‘bum’ and ‘fart’ in polite company at his age, that company would have been a lot less polite in reminding me that saying such things was unacceptable. Now they seem to be normal words in a child’s vocabulary.

So is it a bad thing that our swear words seem to have become less, well, sweary? I actually think it is, in many ways. After all, we need taboo words because they serve a function. They allow us to relieve stress in a way that no other form of language can. They’re funny when used in the right context. And they carry a necessary ability to shock when used in particular circumstances. President Trump’s alleged shithole remark shocked because it was not the context to use such a word. But in our everyday lives now, swearing has become so much the norm and the potency of certain words has reduced so much, that we are no longer surprised at what we hear and more likely to swear ourselves as part of our normal discourse.

Certain words are still of course completely taboo in polite conversation, but if the current trend is to reach its natural conclusion, then even the f word might eventually become the kind of thing you could say to your grandmother without expecting her to keel over from the shock. And if our litany of swear words is to evolve into a collection which is just mildly rude, then we will need some new words to take their place, some neologisms, preferably related to bodily functions, to emerge from the gloom as our profanities of choice.

Donald Trump’s diplomacy skills have reminded us that cursing in the English language is something which is definitely changing. May that be his most damaging legacy.

MeToo Takes on New Power

Twitter hashtags often emerge at key moments to become the defining word of a particular news story. The emergence of #jesuischarlie and its subsequent offspring after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France is a good illustration of a new formation emerging to become the linguistic embodiment of a story, and use of the hashtag and term then gives people the chance to feel part of a story or a movement around it.

These are often new formations, coined specially for the occasion. Less common perhaps is the commandeering of an existing word or phrase to become the flag-bearer for a response to a key event. However, that seems to have changed with the Harvey Weinstein story.

American actress Alyssa Milano encouraged people who had been sexually abused to reply to her tweet with the phrase Me Too:

Very soon afterwards, the hashtag #MeToo was picked up across social media as thousands of people shared their own experiences. #MeToo quickly became a way for people to feel empowered to speak up, and if anything good can come of the scandal which has engulfed Hollywood this week, then it may be that a new term has emerged which people can use as a way of fighting back from those who have mistreated them.

Linguistically, it is also interesting to think about whether this is a short-term use of the term or whether it will become the de facto phrase for people when discussing these issues in the future. It is after all a pretty common turn of phrase, used by many people on a regular basis. This won’t change that, but it may well add an extra nuance of meaning now when people do use it, and may make them stop and think in the future.

When I looked up Me Too on Google this morning, the top link was Meghan Trainor’s video of her song Me Too from last year. Thankfully this didn’t deal with the issues raised by the Weinstein scandal, but was still a song of female empowerment. It has now been replaced at the head of Google’s results by the new developments.

People in product development and marketing also often talk about Me Too products, which are basically copycat products designed to try and replicate the success of commercial rivals, or created so that people don’t feel they have missed out on something. In that sense, a Me Too product is simply about wanting to be part of something and doing whatever it takes to catch up. In the case of the #MeToo hashtag, nobody who is using it has willingly become part of something. It will be interesting to see if this term declines in the marketing world as a result of this new usage.

The Weinstein story has been a harrowing and disturbing one for all those involved. However, if this term can become a way of allowing people to fight back from terrible experiences, then perhaps there can be a better future for those have been abused in the past.

When Three is Not a Crowd

As gay marriage has become more prevalent around the world, so people have cropped up from time to time to say that the institution needs a new word to describe it, a position I have vehemently argued against on innumerable occasions.

However, there are times when even I will admit that a new word may be just what is needed.

In Colombia, plans are afoot for the first legal ceremony to join three people together in matrimony. The three men currently live as a ‘throuple’ – another word I will admit that I didn’t know but one which has apparently been a thing for the last three or four years – and are now all set to be joined legally.

There is no legal term for the union of Victor Hugo Prada, Manuel Bermudez and Alejandro Rodriguez, so Colombian officials have had to invent one. They are calling it a “régimen patrimonial especial de trieja”, translated as “a special patrimonial union”.

If marriages between throuples start to take off, and it might given that a trend for three people living together in blissful harmony seems to be catching on, then a new word which is catchier than the one attempted in Colombia is likely to be needed. Throupliage? Or maybe Threesome could take on a new meaning? Or is this just a variant of polygamy dressed up as something else.

Whatever is finally chosen, the coverage which this story has received suggests that not only will throuple become a word with which we will become increasingly familiar, but also that soon there may be a groundswell of opinion pushing for a new word for a new kind of union.