I have never heard of American comedian Stephen Colbert. I know nothing of his satirical shows in the US, and I was oblivious of his contribution to the lexicon. So when I read this week that he had coined a new word in one of his on-air satirical pieces, I was not entirely sure whether it would merit further consideration.
But on looking into it, I found that Mr Colbert has previous in this area, and his newest contribution is actually an effort to take his previous triumph and give it a new spin. In 2005, in his first broadcast, he used the word ‘Truthiness’, the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true over concepts or facts known to be true. Other obscure meanings of the word have been recorded, but so successful was this meaning that it quickly became used by many others and the American Dialect Society named it the word of the year.
So when Mr Colbert himself introduced a derivative of truthiness, I had to sit up and take notice. He defined ‘Truthinews’ as the process of news channels telling viewers what they want to hear and then reporting their own opinions back to them as facts, often inspired by surveys.
He said: “Luckily now truthinews is here to usher in a new standard of broadcasting. First, we ask you what you think the news is, then report that news you told us back to you, then take an insta-Twitter poll to see if you feel informed by yourself, which we will read on the air until we reach that golden day when we are so responsive to our viewers that cable news is nothing but a mirror, a logo and a news crawl.”
We now sit back and see whether this word enjoys the same success as its ancestor:
I must admit that the birth of the world’s first liliger passed me by last year. But fear not. The arrival of three more liligers has propelled this new species, and neologism, across the world’s media.
The liliger litter has been born at Novosibirsk zoo in Russia to a lion father (Sam) and a liger mother (Zita), a liger being a cross-breed between a lion and a tiger.
Whether this word has a long life is of course entirely dependent on the future course of the world’s liliger population. Given that there are only four of them at present, and they are all female, the prospects don’t look great. This may be a word that only covers a single generation of animals and then retreats into history. Or perhaps when older, a liliger will mate with a lion, creating a lililiger.
I dread to think how many syllables we might need for their great-great-grandchildren.
I have often bemoaned the length of time it takes for the Oxford English Dictionary to include new words in its official annals. But I also recognise that the OED cannot include anything and everything as soon as it emerges, as it is the ultimate record of words in the English language and can only include those words that are here to stay.
But now there is evidence that things might be about to speed up, albeit that this is only in proportion to the previous tardiness. Alongside its raft of new but strangely familiar words, such as e-reader, dad dancing and fiscal cliff, the new OED update contains an expansion of the meaning of Tweet, to include its social media senses for both noun and verb.
What, I hear you say, it’s only just been included, surely that’s been around for ages. Correct, I retort, but in OED terms, it is still a veritable foetus, not yet born to lexicographical life. And yet it now appears. In what was termed ‘A Quiet Announcement’ in a piece by chief editor John Simpson, he said that the definition breaks an OED rule, namely that a word has to be in use for 10 years before being considered for inclusion, with Tweet in its Twitter sense numbering around six years. As a reason for inclusion, Mr Simpson jokes: “But it seems to be catching on.”
I wonder if this is a sign of things to come. Will the fact that things now ‘catch on’ much quicker mean that as time goes on, OED rules will finally become a little less stringent? Will the new speed with which words become entrenched in the language finally mean a new fast track to their official recognition. I do hope so. Language evolution has been changed forever by technology, and those who work in this world need to recognise and respond to that. Let this be the start of that change.
Protests and civil action can often be a fertile source for neologisms, with Arab Spring in particular being the most prominent example of recent years.
The situation in Turkey, which has seen protesters ranged against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over plans to redevelop a park, have also spawned a new word, and it may yet grow to become the single one to encapsulate the story.
Prime Minister Erdogan described the protesters as çapulcu, meaning looters. If it was meant to demean people, it backfired. Not only did those ranged against the Prime Minister willingly embrace the word, they even coined a verb, Capulling, pronounced Chapulling. The concept of Capulling shot across social media, the wearing of T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase ‘Every Day I’m Capulling’ became widespread, and Turkish newspapers even started referring to the protests as the Capulling movement. To be seen to be Capulling rapidly became the mark of belonging, of being part of something important.
The definition has evolved to mean roughly “to act in a peaceful and humorous manner to remind governments why they exist”. It is also showing signs of breaking out of Turkish and across the language divide, so as well being the key word of record for this event, it may cross over into other protests in other countries.
What is most interesting of course is how it represents the classic modern evolution of the new word. Somebody uses a word designed to be derogatory. Recognising the power of words, those slighted turn it on its head to make something positive out of it, something to bind people together. And then the power of social media does the rest, giving it an explosive trajectory towards establishment. It is a word of social media and identity, existing there to begin with and then gaining oxygen via those outlets as well.
Oh, and it’s a word of viral videos as well:
There is an exciting new trend in the world of beauty, apparently. ‘Cleansing Reduction’ is the hot new thing. It means washing less, showering once or twice a week, in the belief that washing every day strips your skin of natural oils and bugs and it is therefore healthier to do it at a reduced frequency.
This story has had substantial pick-up around the world and lots of excited comment from people, eager to share their showering rituals or to express disgust at those loathsome folk who don’t live permanently in a vat of shower gel.
But I wonder if there is a nonsense at the heart of it. Is there really a new trend called ‘cleansing reduction’? Is there any actual proof of this new habit, beyond the results of one survey, which has been picked up by a couple of respected publications and then gone viral?
From what I can tell, the answer is no. I cannot find anything about this subject, and certainly not this new term, beyond the extensive coverage of the original story. And so it is a triumph for tissue manufacturer SCA, who commissioned the survey at the heart of this news.
I see many press releases where a company has tried to coin a new word in the hope that it will be picked up, and the new word will resonate in headlines and so gain them coverage. The tactic seldom seems to work. On this occasion it has done, and there is now a chance that the phrase cleansing reduction will indeed become a new trend, even though it probably wasn’t before, and so it will become self-fulfilling.
As cleansing is reduced so language is expanded.
It’s been an entertaining few days for linguists on the continent. Hot on the heels of the French for French Kiss finally entering the country’s dictionary comes news from Germany of the demise of the language’s longest word.
Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz was introduced in 1999 in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Meaning the almost equally tortuous “the law concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and the labelling of beef”, it came in because of EU legislation at the height of the BSE crisis. With new legislation bringing the required activity to an end, the word becomes possibly the final casualty of the farming disaster it was brought in to help eradicate.
Media outlets across the world have had fun with this story, a particular favourite being articles celebrating absurdly long words in German and other languages. Despite being a sesquipedalian, I don’t intend to repeat that.
Instead I have been thinking about German’s fabled ability to string lots of smaller words together to make one bigger word. I think the one that I remember being told about when growing up was tank, or schutzengrabenvernichtungsautomobile as Germans of a certain age liked to call them. What I think is clear about this story is that this method of coining words in German is not going to change, and at some point in the future, some other utterly unpronounceable word is going to emerge in response to a semantic chasm. No doubt we will all be reporting on that as well.
I also like the way that word has simply been killed off. The legislation goes and so does the word, no sentimentality, just efficiency. In English, it takes years of moribundity before a word heads to linguistic heaven. In German, it seems that a word can cease to be instantly.
Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz now has infinitely more recognition than it ever did when it was alive. Sadly it is not here to enjoy it. But at least the cattle are.