Monthly Archives: January 2016

Snowzilla Makes Storm Unforgettable

There’s nothing like giving something a really good name to cement it in people’s minds. But if we have learnt anything from recent significant weather events, it is that those doing the naming perhaps need to be a little more creative.

I first started thinking about this towards the end of the last year, when the UK was hit by a series of storms. This was the first time that winter storms had carried names, following a Met Office appeal, and the style was very much in keeping with the way that cyclones and hurricanes are named, with an alphabetical list of forenames serving as the pre-ordained names for the storms as they occurred.

I began to wonder whether there were more storms than normal or there was a perception of more storms than normal, because the fact that they were now being named gave them more of an identity and so reinforced the notion that their frequency was becoming greater. I did discuss this with a weather expert, who said that the weather was pretty much the same as every year. But I think the naming aspect somehow made the overall effect seem greater.

The names themselves were not that striking. Even Desmond, which wrought the most havoc, seemed indistinguishable from the rest, with the name not really giving any sense of the ferocity of the event and the luck of the draw meaning that anybody called Desmond might forever be associated with giant floods and howling gales. The names were in fact chosen by the public, but the limited parameters of choice contributed to the less than inspiring list.

How much better it would be if those options could actually describe the events with which they are associated.

So all hail the Washington Post, which decided that the snow event which has just engulfed the North East of the United States needed a proper name to describe both the event as it happened and to immortalise it in the annals of dreadful snowfalls. They held a much more insightful poll, and while they didn’t actually pick the poll’s winner, because let’s be honest ‘Make Winter Great Again’ is not a name which trips happily off the tongue, the runner-up, Snowzilla, clearly does fulfil the brief in every respect.

So Snowzilla it will be now and forever more, and of course it’s brilliant because it sums up the scale and ferocity of the snow blast, it is slightly irreverent but also encapsulates the danger that turned out to be all too real. And it will make people pay a lot more attention than ‘Winter Storm Jonas’, the official original title, now lost in the drifts.

This isn’t the first time that Wordability has noted the use of –zilla as a suffix, but it is not common, and frankly the Avozilla described previously was a bit of a limp offering. Snowzilla may see a new influx of –zilla related words emerging. And it may also prove that when there is a big weather event in the offing, it may be best to turn to find a truly creative way to name it.

A Squirmish In The Polls

As US election year dawns, so the role of language in the campaign will come to the fore once more. During the 2012 election campaign, I wrote about how the finding of the right word could potentially swing the entire poll, while also noting how Mitt Romney’s travails with language could have contributed to his dismal final result.

So it’s disappointing to note that in the 2016 version so far, the times that language has come to the fore have been more the subject of ridicule and controversy than anything else. Last month it was Donald Trump and his use of the term schlonged. This time around, Trump is still at the centre of things, but even more central to events is Sarah Palin.

It is the use of the word ‘Squirmish’ which has caused all the fuss this time. In her much-dissected endorsement of the Republican front-runner, Palin referred to squirmishes happening around the world, meaning a kind of low-level skirmish. Interestingly, after the inevitable initial amusement, criticism and Twitter reaction, there seems to have been an almost grudging respect for the term. Some have said they find it actually quite useful, while used it as a way to discuss the way that words are introduced in election campaigns generally, while also saying Palin was not the first person to use it.

While I doubt that Palin was aware of the 19th century citations to which alludes, and whether it was a deliberate neologism or a cock-up, there is no doubt that squirmishes has emerged as the first word of this year to be associated with the campaign, and it appears to have a certain amount of momentum to keep it in the public domain for at least a few weeks.

I suppose the level of squirmishes between the candidates might dictate how long it stays current for.