Monthly Archives: September 2012

Whatsapp With The Dutch?

The popular smartphone messaging app WhatsApp has inspired a new word in the Dutch dictionary. Whatsappen, a verb meaning to send an electronic message, will be included in the online Van Dalen dictionary from October.

I know that WhatsApp is very popular and is constantly at the top of the iTunes charts, but I must confess to being slightly surprised at its Dutch popularity. I have never come across anybody telling me they are using it, and I have certainly never heard anybody drop it into conversation in a generic Googling type way. So I suspect this may be a development in the Dutch language that we will not be seeing replicated in English any time soon. It has also been quite fun reading the Dutch coverage using Google instant traslation, as Whatsappen translates somewhat bizarrely as ‘What Juices’.

I also wonder whether other popular apps will start to find their way into the dictionary. After all, causing rampant carnage may sound less offensive if people simply say they were ‘Angry Birdsing’.

Lesula’s Long Road to Discovery

It’s nice when a new word emerges from an unlikely source. Technology, social media, politics – they are often the lifeblood of neologisms and new usages. So it is a great pleasure to welcome the Lesula to the lexicon.

It is particularly welcome because this is a creature that has clearly been around for ages. In case you’ve missed it, the Lesula is only the second new species of monkey to be identified in Africa in the last 28 years. It was first seen in 2007 and further research has now confirmed its uniqueness.

It is known by the local Mbole people as Lesula, a word which is now globally familiar. This is a relief, as it is hard to imagine its scientific appendage, Cercopithecus lomamiensis, tripping off the tongue quite so easily.

The word itself seems destined for dictionary status and and is sure of its place in the English language of the future. I am pleased this should be guaranteed despite the fact it will probably not be widely used once this publicity blizzard has passed. I also like the fact that is is not a new word for a new concept and is instead a new word for something very, very old, but previously unknown. It is a specialised word, definitively describing something new, and I expect to see it acknowledged officially before too long.

But it is not the name for which this story will ultimately be remembered. It is the picture that has shot around the world of a plaintive looking money staring out into space. And I suspect people will remember that picture long after they have forgotten what it is called.

Lesula Monkey

Amazeballs to Zhoosh: Collins’ First Fruits

The dictionary revolution has truly started. Collins recently announced plans to open up the dictionary-making process to the public, and the What’s Your Word feature is now a permanent slot on the company’s website, allowing anybody to submit a word for lexicographical consideration.

Well Collins has now revealed the first words which it will include in its online dictionary. It’s a pleasingly eclectic bunch, reflecting a wide range of subjects and showcasing many words which have long since deserved their place in official reference books.

Unsurprisingly, words from technology provide fertile ground for the list. BBM and Bing carry the flag for Blackberry and Microsoft, while Twitter is well represented with three entries, Tweetup, Twitterer and Twittersphere. Bashtag, a critical hashtag, is also included. It’s also good to see more generic terms like Liveblog, Captcha and Cyberstalking making the cut.

One trend in the list is new definitions for existing words, such as Facebook as a verb, as in To Facebook someone, a usage which Wordability discussed last year. My niece will also be pleased to see that Sick, meaning good, has now been included, as it means I will no longer give her a hard stare every time I hear her say it.

Much slang and informality has been recognised for the permanent place it now has in the language. As well as the titular Amazeballs (enthusiastic approval) and Zhoosh (to make more exciting), words such as Bridezilla (an intolerable planner of her own wedding), Frenemy (a friend who behaves like an enemy) and Mummy Porn (erotic fiction for women) are bound to get attention.

There are some unusual additions. Indian cookery is a surprisingly tasty element to the list of words, with Dosa and Sambar being included, as well as Daal as an alternative spelling of Dal. Some regional dialect words are also in, such as Frape from the South West, meaning tightly bound, or Marra, a mate in Northern England. There were also some I had not heard before which simply made me laugh, such as Hangry, meaning irritable because you haven’t eaten, a state I am perpetually in, or Photobomb, which means to go into the background of somebody’s photo without realising it.

It really struck me though how useful this whole enterprise has been. I was frankly surprised to see some of the words and usages included for the first time, such as Faff as a noun, meaning something is a bit awkward to do, or Oojamaflip, a term for something when you can’t quite remember what it is. It’s a reminder that it does take a long time for terms to make it to the dictionary.

Nevertheless, Collins’ efforts to let the world at large add to the dictionary-making process is to be applauded. This first tranche of words helps its online dictionary get bang up to date. With the initiative remaining in place, it will be in pole position to add words as soon as they gain some currency and will surely help the company reflect English as it is spoken today.

Stoptober? No, Just Stop!

The UK Government’s upcoming campaign to try and help people give up smoking is a noble effort. Less noble is the linguistic approach they have taken to try and sell their campaign. They want you to stop smoking for 28 days in October. So welcome to Stoptober.

I fear we could be on a slippery slope here. Just because Movember is now well established in the lexicon and the calendar as the month in which men sprout facial hair and collect money for cancer charities, it doesn’t mean that we can all now jump on the bandwagon, grab a month and attempt to rename it as a way of promoting our own campaign. Stoptober feels a little like this to me.

And where will it end? Let’s run a series of self-help sessions to lift people’s morale – welcome to Peptember. What if people need it after a period where they have found life really dull – good old Boregust. And how about Christmas conviviality, and a month leading up to it which is full of drinking. Well, I’ll leave you to your own December conclusions.

Good luck to the Department of Health, and to all those people who want to give up smoking and who manage to achieve it because of this campaign. But world at large, please don’t continue to adopt months, change their names, and assume you will get instant success. Or it’s Banuary for all of you.

New Words Which are not Ridic

The tail end of summer is always a fertile time for lovers of new words. ‘Tis the season of dictionary updates, and as each publisher puts out their own list of additions, so column inches and discussions ensue about their relative merits as English vocabulary enjoys a brief moment in the media spotlight.

Now, as Wordability prepares to enter its second year (a year already, amazing!), I have decided to buck my usual trend and not bemoan the length of time it takes for established words to gain acceptance. And it would be easy. After all, OED online has finally recognised Tweeps, a person’s Twitter followers, a word which while recent has certainly gained enough credibility over the last couple of years to have deserved official recognition before now. Meanwhile in the States, Merriam-Webster has included sexting and gastropub for the first time, words that have been around for some time.

No, what has bothered me about this particular round of coverage is the reaction of some commentators and in discussion pages about some of the words which have been included. The OED’s acceptance of Ridic and Mwahahaha, Chambers adding Glamping and Defriend to a section of its thesaurus – words such as these have seen the language pedants roll up their sleeves and go to work.

The curmudgeons argue that such words defile the English language, that its purity and beauty is somehow soiled by these trendy new terms as they gain usage and then acceptance. And of course, everybody who gives this opinion completely misses the point.

Because English is not a static museum piece, it is not a thing put into a book to be learnt as it is. No, it is a beautifully evolving stream, which is allowed to constantly change and grow to truly reflect how its speakers use it. Its incredible flexibility is one of the principal reasons behind its success as a global tongue, and not acknowledging this is simply not getting it. It is vital for dictionary makers to add new words as they become popular and embedded, and not listen to the luddites who would still speak like Shakespeare.

And people may want to view the situation in China, where natural evolution of the language is not allowed. Commonly used English words and phrases have now been included in the latest edition of the Modern Chinese Dictionary, and scholars have argued that Chinese law itself has been broken by the move.

Pedants in the English-speaking world may think they want a language which doesn’t change, and may believe they want dictionary makers to ignore the language that is actually spoken. But it is vital that lexicographers continue to reflect the language as it truly is, and that we all celebrate the fact that we live somewhere where they are allowed to do that.

Eastwooding Makes My Linguistic Day

It would have been easy to assume that when Clint Eastwood was lined up to speak at the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney might have been sitting back and looking forward to to the positive publicity glow which the grizzled actor’s words would bathe him in.

Alas, no. This is Mitt Romney we are talking about, Wordability’s unlikely folk hero, and a man dogged by linguistic disaster wherever he treads.

And so it is with Clint. His ringing endorsement is being remembered not for the positive words he spoke about Mr Romney, but about the bizarre scene he acted out when he accosted an invisible Barack Obama, who was represented by an empty chair. And so, Eastwooding was born.

As Tebowing before it, so images are swamping the internet of people pointing at, basically, empty chairs. They are Eastwooding. The word is sweeping across the globe, and is rapidly gaining in usage.

Will it last beyond the week? Unlikely, and if it does, only until election time in a couple of months. Is it the word for which Clint would want to be remembered? Definitely not. And as for Mr Romney? He will be hoping that come debate time, Mr Obama remembers to turn up. He wouldn’t want to be Eastwooding live on national television.