Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Baggy Green Guide To Bikers

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.

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Harlem Shake New Rival to Gangnam Style

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.

Messi Scores A Dictionary Entry

Let me get one thing straight. I love football. And, quite obviously, I also love words. So you’d think then when the two come together, it would create perfect harmony for me. But instead, I think I am witnessing a bit of a language own goal.

It is becoming trendy to celebrate the world’s greatest footballers by creating a word around their unique ability, and then sticking it in a relevant dictionary. Take the world’s greatest player, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. The Spanish Santillana dictionary has now added to its pages the adjective ’Inmessionante’, defined as ‘ The perfect way to play football, an unlimited ability to self-improve.’

Last year, Swedish lexicographers celebrated their own footballing hero, Zlatan Ibrahomivic, with the verb Zlatanera, ‘to dominate on and off the field’.

So are we now stuck with this? Will every sporting nation start to celebrate their finest footballer with a word saying, basically, that they’re great? Will the stars’ names simply become lexically interchangeable according to which dictionary you are looking at?

You have to hope not. Or if this is simply to disappear as the publicity gimmick it seems to be, then maybe we should suggest some slightly more entertaining definitions that should be included:

“To play brilliantly before assaulting a member of the opposition team in a vital match” – To Zidane;

“To leer at the camera after scoring a vital goal in a way that suggests you have taken in more than a half-time orange” – To Maradona;

“To play quite well in a tournament before losing on penalties” – To England.

The fact is, this could run and run. Let’s hope it doesn’t.

The Problems Of Mixed Weight Couples

If you have never worried about how couples at opposite ends of the obesity spectrum deal with their unique relationship issues, think again. A new study has laid bare the issues faced by so-called Mixed-Weight Couples.

I can see where this phrase is coming from – its a half rhyme away from mixed-race and so seems to trip off the tongue all too easily. But is this the start of a new trend for terms which will define relationship issues by the obvious differences on show?

Will we soon be reading about mixed-height couples, how they can’ t whisper secrets to one another without getting a stiff neck or how they wrestle with other more intimate limitations caused by their height differential? And what of mixed-dextrous couples, where one is right- and one is left-handed? The problems caused by not knowing which way to hang the fridge door could break the sturdiest of marriages.

Now I’m not denying that this is a valid study touching on something new, and that some people have found some genuine support from the publication of this work. I think the term is going to find a permanent place in the lexicon. I just hope it is not the start of a barrage of similar terms.

Say I Don’t To Sarriage

The subject of gay marriage is never far from the headlines, and the linguistic aspects of the debate also froth constantly near the surface.

Last year I looked at the discussions around the naming of the whole institution, and in particular the efforts of some to introduce a brand new word for it.

At the time I said that this completely missed the point at the heart of these issues, and that by giving this institution a different name it automatically became a different institution and therefore did not achieve the equality for which its adherents are fighting.

But despite this, some people still don’t get it. One such person is New Zealander Russell Morrison, whose contribution to a lively discussion among his country’s MPs was to suggest legislation for a brand new word – Sarriage.

He said: “Then a person can be asked whether he or she is married or sarried, and the response will make the situation clear for everybody.”

No Mr Morrison. What it will make clear to everybody is that parliament has failed in its role to give equality to people and has instead continued to sideline them by creating a brand new word. Or as Australian Marriage Equality’s national convener Rodney Croome eloquently put it: “What is the point of assigning same-sex couples a different word when ‘marriage’ describes exactly what many same-sex couples already have, a loving, committed, long-term relationship?

“The effect of alternate words like ‘sarriage’ would be to set same-sex partners apart, re-inforce discrimination against us and suggest our relationships are somehow less valuable and less serious than our heterosexual counterparts.”

Mr Croome is absolutely right. New words come in when there is a gap which needs filling. That is not the case here. But it will not stop the suggestions coming in.