Monthly Archives: November 2014

Shirtfronting Front and Centre

I have spent many happy months in Australia. My wife is Australian. I got married there. So it’s always good to see a good old Aussie term taking centre stage in the English language.

Australian rules football has always been a game of joyous thuggery, where men in tight shorts run incomprehensibly round a large field and knock each other over in the name of sport. And it has spawned the term to shirtfront, meaning to aggressively knock someone to the ground, usually by ramming them hard in the chest with your arm. Other definitions are available, but the end result is broadly the same. Opponent, in pain, lying on the ground.

But now the definition of shirtfront has widened after Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott threatened to shirtfront Rusisian President Vladimir Putin at an upcoming diplomatic event. Mr Abbott was rekindling a wider usage that had flourished briefly in the 1980s, but his quote led the Macquarie Dictionary, the authority on Australian English, to update its definition.

From January, the online edition will include definition “to confront (someone) aggressively with a complaint or grievance”. Dictionary editor Susan Butler said his statement had made dictionary editors realise “there was this older usage around, and we had not covered it, so now we’re catching up.”

This isn’t the first time that Toby Abbott has been at the centre of a change in the Macquarie Dictionary. Back in 2012, then Prime Minister Julia Gillard accused him of being a misogynist, a controversy which saw the word’s definition expanded to include prejudice against women, as well as downright hatred.

If Mr Abbott felt at all aggrieved by that decision be is probably feeling more buoyant about his latest contribution to his language’s heritage. I doubt he will feel the need to shirtfront a lexicographer any time soon.

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A Load of Old W***?

There’s always a good language story to be had from Sweden. Keen to stress increasing sexual liberation across the country, a campaign has been launched to find a new word for something which currently doesn’t have its own term. The search is on for a word for female masturbation.

The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education launched a national search for a new word, and more than 1,000 suggestions poured in from the public. The list has now been narrowed down to 34 and next June the panel will decide whether ‘pulla’, ‘selfa’ or something else will emerge victorious.

Kristina Ljungros of the association said: “The absence of one commonly used word for female masturbation suggests that we still don’t have gender equality here in Sweden. Hopefully this is another step towards that.”

By this argument, the same could be said of England. An identical exercise could easily be carried out for this language, as it seems to be equally lacking linguistically in this respect.  A recent Huffington Post piece helpfully suggested flicking the bean, or air out of the orchid, which I think just confiirms that English is as backwards as Swedish when it comes to this linguistic oversight.

So can you see a campaign being launched in the UK to come up with a suitable term? No, me neither. I guess, like so many other aspects of our modern lives, well have to wait for the Swedes to lead the way. Let’s just hope they don’t let IKEA have the final say-so. Billy Bookcase anyone?

Grubering Set To Die Hard

Words can be incredibly powerful in the world of politics, so the US Republican party must be rubbing its hands together with glee at its linguistic triumph of the last few days.

Videos have emerged of economist Jonathan Gruber talking about President Obama’s flagship healthcare plan, known as Obamacare. Mr Gruber was one of the chief architects behind it, but in the videos, he is quoted as saying: “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass.” Subsequent videos of him citing the inability of Americans to understand the issues have emerged to really ram the point home.

And so Grubering has been born. Defined as lying to sell a political policy, the word is exploding across social media and the internet, with the Republicans seizing on it with delight. Swiftly derivatives are appearing, such as gruberish and gruberism. In fact, a whole family of words summing up the concept of lying and deceit as a political weapon to get a political bill to pass has now emerged, and shows no sign of stopping.

Words can be very powerful political tools to encapsulate a debate, they become a simple tool of reference. If a word such as this can stick in people’s minds, it will instantly serve a purpose which a lengthy speech might struggle to encapsulate. Democrats will probably be grateful it has emerged now, rather than in an election cycle, when a word can have the power to influence the result. Nevertheless, they will be hoping the word will have run its course by the time the presidential race begins in 2016. But my hunch is that this is a word that might prove to have more durability than that.

Vape Wafts To Oxford Accolade

I’d been wondering more than usual this year as to what Oxford Dictionaries would announce as its word of the year. The reason is that I don’t think it has been a vintage year for words. I’ve been struggling to think of a new word coined this year that has really taken off, and this has been my least productive year since opening the virtual files of Wordability.

So it’s not a surprise that Oxford’s choice this year is not a word coined in 2014, and it’s not a surprise that the word was nigh on impossible to predict. The Oxford experts have plumped for Vape.

Vape is both a noun and a verb associated with electronic cigarettes. As a verb it means to inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette, while the noun refers to either the electronic device itself or the act of inhaling or exhaling the vapour produced.

Explaining the choice, Judy Pearsall, Editorial Director for Oxford Dictionaries, said: “As vaping has gone mainstream, with celebrities from Lindsay Lohan to Barry Manilow giving it a go, and with growing public debate on the public dangers and the need for regulation, so the language usage of the word ‘vape’ and related terms in 2014 has shown a marked increase.” That marked increase has seen usage of the word more than double over the last 12 months.

Other contenders were Bae, a term of endearment for one’s partner; Budtender, someone who dispenses cannabis; Contactless, relating to payments taken from cards or phones; Indyref, the Scottish Referendum; Normcore, ordinary clothes worn as a fashion statement; and Slacktivism, online participation for a cause but requiring little effort.

The real question for me is whether Vape really sums up 2014? Recent choices like Selfie and Omnishambles really summed up the mood of the year, they were great choices because they acted as a commentary on the 12 months they represented.

I can’t feel the same about Vape. When I think about 2014, Vape will not come to mind as a word that really captures the mood and spirit of the age. Rather it serves as a reminder of one particular development. Nonetheless, it could be the best of a bad bunch, as not only have great new words not emerged, actually capturing a sense of what the year has been all about has been strangely elusive in 2014.

And maybe that makes Vape a better and more profound choice than I first realised. It’s kind of unreal, ethereal even, and fake. Maybe a year that has been hard to sum up deserves a word of the year that relates to something which is a replacement for the real thing.