Monthly Archives: July 2014

Not the Oxt Big Thing

I read an article recently which suggested a campaign had been started to try and get a new word into the dictionary. So far, so Wordability. But when you realise that campaign started five years ago, then you begin to realise that the its chances of success are pretty remote.

Ivan Cash and Jeremy Knight felt there was an issue with the phrase next weekend. Does it mean the weekend coming up or the one afterwards? How do we cope with this ambiguity without convoluted phrases such as ‘not this weekend but the weekend after’.

To avoid confusion, and to lessen our wasted words, they came up with the word Oxt, defined as above, produced a website and even created this helpful illustration:

Oxt weekend plannerWhile I applaud some of the sentiments on the website, especially the sense of English as a changing entity where new words can take root and flourish, there are a couple of fundamental flaws with Oxt.

The first – well it’s a pretty terrible word. For me, it has absolutely no bearing on what it is meant to mean. In terms of deriving it from other related words, I don’t think it succeeds.

Secondly, it is quite unnecessary. I have managed for years with this weekend and next weekend and frankly, very little need to explain the difference between the two. And if there has been a difference, then explaining it is no big deal. But this can be proved with the definition the creators have come up with. If Oxt weekend is defined as ‘not this weekend but the weekend after’, then that definition only works if ‘this weekend’ is completely understood and unambiguous. And if ‘this weekend’ is unambiguous, then so is ‘next weekend’. So Oxt is unnecessary.

So if this word is five years old, why am I writing about it now. Well Vox picked it up online a couple of weeks ago and wrote about it, and that spawned some follow-ups, with the Guardian undoubtedly the most prominent.

Frankly, I don’t think it matters whether people are writing about it this week, next week or even oxt week. Oxt is not here to stay.

A Word With Weird Al Jankovic

I feel a bit said that Weird Al Jankovic is probably not a fan of Wordability. The noted creator of parody songs has just released his new album, Mandatory Fun, which contains the song Word Crimes, a musical diatribe against the breaking of the rules of grammer and what is generally regarded as correct English.

I am in two minds about this song. On the one hand, I am a stickler for correct English, and have been noted for my pedantry over correct English over the years, especially when working in professional media organisations with my sub editing hat on. So I agree with the song’s sentiments when it comes to the written language in formal and published contexts.

On the other hand, Wordability‘s brief has always been to applaud the new words which come into English and make a difference, while to also acknowledge that as a living, breathing entity, English is changing, and the rules which people have worshipped for many years may ultimately be ripped up by the language’s users. Changes which are increasingly prevalent in spoken and digital language will almost inevitably be accepted into the grammatical and lexical rules of the future. Weird Al’s support for apostrophes and the alleged misuse of literally suggest he would have have disagreed with my postings on the subject.

But a small part of me wonders whether Weird Al really is as prescriptive as his song makes out. Word Crimes is a pastiche of Blurred Lines, the 2013 hit by Robin Thicke described by some as the most controversial song of the decade. The song describes apparent ambiguity in the way that men read women’s signals, but the lyrics have been interpreted by many as date rape, while the accompanying video has been accused of sexism, and the song has been banned in many places.

If Weird Al had truly wanted to stand up for grammar’s rules, might he have picked a less ambiguous and controversial song to use as the backbone for his apparent tirade? Or does his choice of song suggest that while he wants to get his grammar beefs off his chest, an element of him is trying to suggest that the situation is not as straightforward as might first appear?

I may be completely wrong. All of the commentary on this song suggests that it is a straightforward diatribe against bad English, and celebrity support from luminaries such as Kelsey Grammer, whose Twitter feed is dedicated to grammatical issues, would suggest I have a minority interpretation.

But we are dealing with a performer whose stock in trade is pastiche, and who has chosen a vehicle for his diatribe whose own meaning has been debated to death over the last 12 months. Perhaps Weird Al is not quite as obsessed about his rules of grammar as appears to be the case.

Internet Has Fun at Brazil’s Expense

While Brazilians have been licking their wounds at their extraordinary thrashing at the hands of Germany in the World Cup, the internet has been awash with jokes at the unfortunate hosts’ expense.

There are a number of aspects of language change and communication that are demonstrated by the memes which have spread across the globe in the 24 hours since the match. The first is that the word meme is now firmly established as the term to describe creations of any sort, picture, video, joke, which are spread quickly around the world via social media and other technological means. I think this is a word that is still not properly understood by most people, but its jump from being a word for those in the know to the wider mainstream will have been helped by the enormous coverage the Brazilian memes have enjoyed since the final whistle.

Related to this is the idea that the nature of language itself is being changed by memes such as this. People want to say something about the game, they want to be part of the discussion and join in the fun. Now, rather than having to use words to formulate an idea, they create a picture or video as a way of making their point and then distribute it to spread that joke wider. And then others, who also want to join the conversation and say something about what has happened, simply pick their favourite meme and send it to their friends, in effect making a comment themselves. The tone of what they want to say is encapsulated by the meme they choose to share. So people are talking to each other by sharing jokes, rather than by using words. It is a key part of linguistic evolution and actually demonstrates a lingua franca that exists outside any spoken language which is currently active.

Finally new words will emerge as a result of this game, and the first is Mineirazo, named after the Estadio Mineirao where the game was played. This follows the word Maracanazo, coined after Brazil lost to Uruguay in the World Cup in 1950 in the Maracano Stadium. The new result is already being referred to in the media as the Mineirazo, and so this word will remain as the linguistic touchstone against which all future Brazilian performances, and possibly disasters, will be measured.