Category Archives: Wordability In Brief

Short entries on new words and usages which Wordability has spotted and

Time to stop Micro-Cheating

Dear Wordability readers. I feel I owe you an apology. I have been neglecting you these last few months. Yes I know that Donald Trump got me back into action last week, but that was after an absence of three months. Aside from that I have been cheating on you in a big way, concentrating on other distractions and not keeping you up to date with the latest new words emerging in the English language.

This year, I pledge to do better, to be more faithful. I’ll try not to cheat on you at all. Well maybe a little a bit of Micro-cheating perhaps.

Micro-cheating is the new kid on the relationship block. Coined by Australian psychologist Melanie Schilling, it means acting in small, what might seem insignificant ways, but which when added up constitute a greater cheating crime than the sum of its parts. Leaving heart emojis on a friend’s Facebook post? Storing somebody’s number in your phone under an alias? Sharing a private joke with an ex? Not writing a Wordability post because you are reading a different blog about the English language? (OK, I made that one up)

I see the point of this. In today’s new interconnected world, where we have so many touchpoints with other people, albeit of a more superficial nature than we had before, there are many more opportunities to betray inappropriate desires and feelings.

But there has been a backlash against the term, with many suggesting that it opens the way for controlling and abusing characters to further strengthen their grip on their partners by forbidding behaviour which could also be construed as innocent and harmless. People have always had secrets, harmless flirtations and the like. Does the fact that technology now lays them barer mean that they should be demonised? Many cyber column inches have already been devoted to debates over the subject, and they show little sign of going away.

All of which goes to show that whichever side of the micro-cheating debate you are on, it is a word which clearly describes a mode of behaviour familiar to many because it has landed with a punch and got people talking. It has filled a semantic need and may therefore have staying power in the language.

And of course it has reminded me to cheat on you less from now on.


When Three is Not a Crowd

As gay marriage has become more prevalent around the world, so people have cropped up from time to time to say that the institution needs a new word to describe it, a position I have vehemently argued against on innumerable occasions.

However, there are times when even I will admit that a new word may be just what is needed.

In Colombia, plans are afoot for the first legal ceremony to join three people together in matrimony. The three men currently live as a ‘throuple’ – another word I will admit that I didn’t know but one which has apparently been a thing for the last three or four years – and are now all set to be joined legally.

There is no legal term for the union of Victor Hugo Prada, Manuel Bermudez and Alejandro Rodriguez, so Colombian officials have had to invent one. They are calling it a “régimen patrimonial especial de trieja”, translated as “a special patrimonial union”.

If marriages between throuples start to take off, and it might given that a trend for three people living together in blissful harmony seems to be catching on, then a new word which is catchier than the one attempted in Colombia is likely to be needed. Throupliage? Or maybe Threesome could take on a new meaning? Or is this just a variant of polygamy dressed up as something else.

Whatever is finally chosen, the coverage which this story has received suggests that not only will throuple become a word with which we will become increasingly familiar, but also that soon there may be a groundswell of opinion pushing for a new word for a new kind of union.

The new territory of Moab

Moab ancient and modernThe biblical land of Moab was a mountainous but fertile region to the east of the Dead Sea, occupying an area covered by modern Jordan today. The area was settled by the Moabites, the descendants of Lot’s incestuously conceived son Moab. Most of our knowledge of Moab comes from the Bible, which attests to a relationship with its neighbours which veered from friendly to hostile. While there is little knowledge of life and propserity with Moab, the territory’s survival throughout the period of the Old Testament suggests a level of stability.

Until now, think Moab in the Middle East, think of the Bible. But that is no longer true.

Even though the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast has been in existence since 2003, it is a fair bet that most of us had never heard of it. But following the dropping of the Mother of All Bombs in Afghanistan this week, MOAB as it is known is dominating the agenda. In modern minds, the location of MOAB in the Middle East is now Afghanistan. The geographical resonance of the word has changed.

The Moab of ancient times didn’t lead to the significant destruction of any major populations. Let us hope that its 21st Century namesake does not lead to a different outcome.

Shrinkflation shows that size matters


Chocolate set to shrink

Even though 2016 was regarded as the year of Brexit and Trump, 2017 is the year when the ramifications of those electoral turn-ups begins to take effect. From a linguistic point of view, this means that we can expect to see an increasing number of new words and phrases coming into the English language as Brexit kicks and Trump starts to, well, kick as well.

The latest word to find itself dominating the news is Shrinkflation – the practice of making products smaller because it is becoming increasingly expensive for manufacturers to maintain the previous size and not increase the price. Many have opted to go for the smaller option rather than the enlarged cost to cusomters as they struggle with unhelpful exchange rates and commodity prices.

In the last week, we have seen reminders of Doritos, Coco Pops and Pepperami as being among the many products shrinking before our eyes, while there are now warnings that Cadbury’s chocolate could be set to follow. The word shrinkflation itself has quickly bedded in as the term to describe this, and it looks like a word that will be around for some time to come. It doesn’t trip off the tongue easily, and it sounds a little forced when you hear people using it in conversation, but as a written word, it seems very likely to be a stayer. It has also had to bide its time – shrinkflation was used in 2014, before Brexit was even connected to it, but it is only now that it is finding its place.

I suppose the question now is what will be the next products to suffer from shrinkflation. Will the fast food giants be forced to rename their signature dishes – will the Big Mac and The Whopper become the Little Mac and The Tiddler? Will Hot Dogs become Hot Puppies?

One thing which I hope won’t suffer from shrinkflation is Wordability, though I am conscious that this has been the case the for last few months, given the lack of new postings on this blog. With language set to reflect the changes across the globe like never before, it is time to to writing again and ensure that at least on these pages, shrinkflation doesn’t strike again.

Ain’t Nothing But A Hamdog

In a recent game around my dinner table, my wife was challenged to invent a product which would appeal to football fans. Her creation – a Furger – was deemed a great success which we all wanted to try.

The Furger was a football-shaped burger, with layers of different meat from the centre, fanning outwards to the traditional burger layer around the outside. It was a fantasy feast for fast-food junkies.

As we know, truth is normally stranger than fiction. Because while the Furger existed merely in our dreaks, the Hamdog is only too real. The brainchild of Australian Mark Murray, the Hamdog is a combined burger and hot dog, with the burger split to allow the hot dog to run through the middle of it, while it is all encased in a specially shaped bun to hold the meat and traditional salads and sauces.

The Hamdog has been patented, and despite Mr Murray’s lack of success on Shark Tank, the Australian equivalent of Dragons’ Den, he has now started selling them in Australia to both national and international attention.

From a linguistic point of view, it is not a surprise that Hamdog was eventually chosen as the appropriate term – I don’t think that Dogburger would have fared quite so well. And while I am no gastronomy expert and therefore cannot predict whether the Hamdog is short-term sensation or long-term fast-food fixture, it would be great if it heralded a new era of combined foodstuffs with names we can all enjoy. Jerk Tikka Masala, Bangers and Squeak, Lemon Meringue Alaska – the possibilities are endless.

My only hope though would be that people don’t try to combine sweet and savoury. For me, it never works. And I don’t want to imagine how a combination of Toad in the Hole and Spotted Dick might come out.

Language Flowers in Italy

Daisy Pollen Flower

Daisy Pollen Flower

An attractive story from Italy, not just because it allows me to decorate the pages of Wordability with this delightful picture of a daily pollen flower. An eight-year-old may now see a word which he invented recognised as an official Italian word.

Matteo, a schoolboy in the town of Copparo in central Italy, used the word Petaloso in a school project to describe a flower as ‘full of petals’. His teacher Margherita Aurora was so impressed she contacted the Accademia Crusca, guardians of the language, and received an encouraging reply.

They said that while the word was not yet in sufficient usage to be able to garner official recognition, it was “well formed word, and could be used in Italian. Your word is beautiful and clear.”

Of course it only takes a bit of social media encouragement and publicity for the word to start being used an awful lot, in order to force lexicographic minds, and while the initial flurry will certainly not be sufficient to get it officially recognised as a word, repeated genuine usage might just do the trick.

Do we need a word for ‘full of petals’ in English? Doubtful, and doubtful as well that it wound quite as lyrical as Pelatoso does. And maybe the lilt of Italian is part of its appeal. After all, other words apparently on the radar for official Italian recognition include Photoshappare and Spoilerare, both of which are ugly Italianisations of English words which I suspect the language could well do without.

So good luck to Pelatoso and who knows, maybe it could make the jump to English and make our own language that tiny bit more beautiful.

How to Muggle Things Up

Literature has been a common source of new words for a very long time. But I doubt whether the replacement of one word created by an author with a new word from the same author has ever created the uproar we have seen this week. But then again, JK Rowling is no ordinary author.

The story is simple. Rowling coined the term Muggle in the Harry Potter series to mean a non-magical person. But in information which has come out this week about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, next year’s film from Rowling’s wizarding imagination, that word has been changed. The film is set in America, a number of years before the birth of young Potter, and it has been revealed that the Americans don’t call their non-magical counterparts Muggles. No, they call them ‘No-Maj’, meaning they have no magic.

Cue the Twitter outpouring, cue the lamentations of Potter fans united in grief at what they see as the demise of one of their favourite words.

It’s nonsense of course. What might have been more surprising was if American wizards and witches had used the word Muggle. Do people not understand language variation across countries? Is it not entirely likely that a slang term, which is after all what Muggle really is, would be different in America from Britain. Star Eddy Redmayne has now done interviews explaining this and also saying that the term Muggle has not been replaced, as some have erroneously claimed. It is simply that a different word is used by people in a different country, no replacement involved. And when you say it with an American accent, you can fully understand why No-Maj sounds right in a way that the more British Muggle would not.

But the episode is interesting for a couple of linguistic reasons, aside from the social observation that yet again the internet is full of people focusing their energy and anxiety on the most trivial of things. What it does show is how beloved the language of JK Rowling is and how masterful she was with the words she coined and chose for her wizarding world. It would be an exaggeration to say that if she had come up with an inferior word for Muggle then her books would not have succeeded. But it does demonstrate that her consistent choice of the right word, finding ones which have really stuck with the public, gives us insight into why her books have succeeded.

The other thing to mention is that much of the reporting of this story has stressed that Muggle has even been recognised by Oxford Dictionaries. That’s lovely, and I must admit I was surprised by the idea that a reputable dictionary was including a definition for people who aren’t magical. But of course, it doesn’t. Muggle has taken on a new meaning for someone who is ‘not conversant with a particular activity or skill’. I can’t off the top of my head think of another example of a word from literature which has then gained a new meaning in the real world and been given dictionary recognition as a result of that.

So the supposed Muggle controversy isn’t really a controversy at all, and in fact demonstrates Rowling’s acute understanding of the English language. And maybe that is the greatest magic of all.