A Sombre Way To End The Year

A sombre word of the year to end 2012. Lexicographers at the Australian National Dictionary Centre have recognised the growing trend in Afghanistan for soldiers to die at the hands of their supposed Afghan colleagues. ‘Green-on–blue’ deaths have shot up in the last 12 months, affecting Australians in particular, and so ‘green-on-blue’ is the Australian word of the year.

The move typifies the downbeat nature of many of this year’s choices, from Omnishambles to Bluster, reflecting a sense that the last 12 months have been a difficult affair. And while that has been true, it has not been wholly the case. The Olympics-engendered feelgood summer in England was anything but depressing, and even though all of us who lived it knew it was an oasis away from the daily storm, it was no less enjoyable for all of that and no less a part of the year that has been.

Only the Van Dale dictionary in the Netherlands seems have come up with something more positive, with its Dutch word of the year unveiled as Project X-feest, a party organised via social media which ends up in a riot. Positive with a hint of negative, really.

The complexity of the year, together with the sense that one negative word doesn’t do it justice, was the reason for Wordability’s decision to go with five words of the year, each summing up a particular aspect of 2012. And if you want to rediscover those words in print as well as on your kindle, you now can,  as Eastwooding with the Mother Flame: The Words of 2012 is now available as a paperback in addition to the electronic version.

So as the year draws to a close, what can we expect in 2013. Well, assuming the Mayans were wrong, we can reasonably expect more depression, more hardship and more new words which reflect the dispirited mood which pervades the globe.

But I hope we see more than that, and we see linguistic creativity continue to flourish in a positive way, giving us new words which not only make us smile but also sum up things which have occurred which have made people’s lives a little richer.


Meggings – The Fashion Dreggings

They’re the latest thing to hit the high street. They’re leggings. For men. So they’re Meggings! Of course they are.

This piece of linguistic tomfoolery was probably the inevitable outcome once jeggings had taken a foothold in the market. The jeans/leggings combo may be a fashion success, but I fear they have opened the floodgates to what may become a new kind of lexical hybrid.

It is far from certain that anyone will ever wear Meggings, but if they do, we can only fear what might come next. Dress your dog in Deggings, combine them with a skirt and call them Skeggings, decorate them with breakfast and name them Eggings, stick them on a leotard and call them,er, Leggings. But you get my point.

Anyway, this is all a bit unnecessary. Surely they should just be displayed as leggings, albeit in menswear. After all, there are male and female equivalents of certain types of clothing and nobody has felt the need to differentiate them neologistically in the past. When women started wearing trousers, nobody thought to call them Wousers. Different kind of thing altogether, really.

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.

Do You Want Fries With Your Dictionary?

I wonder if Australia’s Macquarie dictionary is regretting the fact that it allows people to submit words for inclusion.

The Australian arm of McDonald’s is lobbying for the word Macca’s to be included in the next update. Macca’s is the abbreviation by which the chain is known by many across Australia, and the company feels that this level of lexical awareness makes it worthy of official acclamation.

A recent survey found that 55% of Australians refer to McDonald’s by the abbreviation, the only country where it is used.

McDonald’s Australia’s chief marketing officer Mark Lollback said the abbreviation “reflects our place in the Australian community. We’re the second most recognised abbreviation after footy.”

May I take this opportunity to urge Macquarie to reject this idea. Heaven only knows how many other brands will decide to target dictionary inclusion as a marketing exercise if this succeeds. And that would be a supersized irritation.

Nyasasaurus To See You

Nyasasaurus parrintoni
Nyasasaurus parrintoni. Credit: Natural History Museum, London / Mark Witton

New words emerge when new concepts or objects come along. Well, not always. A brand new word in the natural history lexicon pertains to one of the oldest things on earth.

Researchers have identified what could have been the first dinosaur to walk on earth. Its full biological name is Nyasasaurus parringtoni, though of course it is taking its place in the dinosaur pantheon as Nyasasaurus.

It has a great history, aside from being 245m years old. The fossil used to identify it was found in South Africa in 1930 and had been a mystery until researchers linked it to some samples in Cape Town.

It is called Nyasasaurus because it was found next to Lake Nyasa. It’s a shame that it was decided not to name the creature after the lake as it is called today, as Malawiasaurus has a nice ring to it.

But in years to come, when children are learning about dinosaurs and are being told about those that came at the start of the evolutionary chain, it will be interesting to look back on the moment that Nyasasaurus took its first steps towards becoming as well known as the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Even though it came chronologically first.