A New World For Columbus

We all know that Christopher Columbus discovered America. Actually, we know he discovered it on behalf of the western world, because the country was already inhabited when he arrived.

This nuance over the meaning of ‘discovered’ has seen a new word created in the last few days. A sketch on the College Humor website pokes fun at the idea of white people stumbling across things known to others for many years and then claiming ownership and therefore discovery of them. In honour of the fabled Christopher, this practice is known as ‘Columbusing’.

Columnists have already had lots of fun with this idea, with Miley Cyrus and Twerking featuring prominently in the commentaries of many as she is associated in the minds of lots of people as having discovered twerking, when it had in fact been around for some time.

I think it’s an interesting word as it is a really neat way of encapsulating a quite complex concept, which has both political and social overtones. Whether it has any life beyond this week’s flurry of media activity remains to be seen, but I can see it hanging around as a satirical term online, even if it never makes it into mainstream conversations and dictionaries.

Interestingly, a similar meaning of Columbusing appears to have been submitted to the Urban Dictionary over a year ago. So have the writers at College Humor Columbused Columbusing?

Spornosexual the New Metrosexual

We all know about the phrase that difficult second album. However, we don’t tend to hear about that difficult second neologism. The appearance of a sequel to a highly successful neologism this week has certainly made me think about the concept.

Back in 1994, journalist  Mark Simpson coined the term Metrosexual, There is no doubting its success as a new word. Metrosexual has certainly established itself as a word to describe a particular type of man with a meticulous approach to his own appearance, and it even carried off the American Dialect Society Word of the Year accolade in 2003.

So 20 years on, Mr Simpson has returned with an attempt to update his term and give us a new word for a new type of man. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he gives us Spornosexual.

A spornosexual is a step on from a metrosexual. A fan of sport and pornography, he is a body and selfie-obsessed individual, and rather than just using clothes as a way of defining himself, he uses his body itself, by either tattooing it or honing it to perfection in the gym. And if that is not enough, he will even photoshop his own selfies to get that body image just so.

Given Mr Simpon’s history, and taking on board the veracity of his observations, it is not a suprise that the media have taken to his theory and his new word extremely quickly, with an outpouring of articles and analysis of this new trend he identifies.

But has he coined a second word which will have the same success as the first? I think probably not. Because I don’t think it is as neat a nelogism as his first effort. Spornosexual is actually a combination of three previous words, sports, porn and metrosexual. It’s a little like he has created the neologism sporn and then tacked it onto another word to get yet another word. This multiple method for creating the word makes it difficult to understand immediately, you really need someone to explain it to you to make sense of it, and that is where I think it falls down.

Metrosexual was so successful not only because it defined a clear new trend but the word itself was easy to understand and clearly represented its meaning. To be successful, a new word has to fill a semantic gap and be easy to understand and use. I think Spornosexual fails the latter of these criteria. It is a hard term to understand when you first hear it, and it is not at all obvious what it means. So for this reason, while Mr Simpson may have been spot on with his observations, his new word seems to prove the old adage that a sequel is never as good as the original.

A Phrase That’s Just Too Death Eaterish

JK Rowling may have achieved many things during her illustrious career, but trying to add a new term to common English usage is probably not one of them.

It’s certainly true that she coined many terms as part of the Harry Potter universe, and in one way she has created neologisms which have stuck. But words such as Quidditch, Muggles and Mudblood, which are now familiar to many and whose meanings are widely understood, are still Harry Potter words, and have not crossed over into everyday usage and other contexts.

All of which explains why her linguistic addition to the debate about Scottish independence this week received such a muted and almost hostile response. Rowling donated £1m to the No campaign, and in a lengthy defence of her position, especially criticisms of her connection to Scotland, she wrote: “When people try to make this debate about the purity of your lineage, things start getting a little Death Eaterish for my taste.”

There was inevitable debate about the meaning of the term Death Eaterish,  while with my Wordability hat on, I start to wonder whether it is something which could make the leap to the dictionary. But I think the fact that there were articles about what Death Eaterish actually means confirms that it is not a term which has any chance of being taken on more widely. For what it’s worth, Death Eaters rail against those who are not of pure blood, so you can see why Rowling used it when she was defending her right to a view on Scotland. She was not born there but lives there now. But Death Eaters cast a pall of despair wherever they go, while they are led by the most evil person in the Wizarding kingdom, so it does seem a little harsh to describe those who disagree with her in the same way.

Certain names from literature, such as Svengali, Don Juan and Utopia, have entered the language as regular terms. Death Eaterish, with its slightly esoteric meaning, and its ‘-ish’ formation, which makes it a little flimsy and wishy-washy in any case, does not seem to be one of those terms likely to have an equally successful linguistic future.

#weareallmonkeys #newpartofspeech

New word production seems a bit thin on the ground so far this year. We’re nearly a third of the way through 2014, and I find that the annals of Wordability seem to have less to report on than normal.

But one area that is as fertile as ever is Twitter, and in particular reminders that it has spawned an entirely new type of word.

I refer of course to the hashtag, which is both a word and yet not a word. Originally an easy way to search for content, the hashtag has evolved into something which in time might come to be recognised as a new part of speech altogether. By taking a short sentence and sticking it together with no spaces, a new term is formed as a way of summing up the sentiment expressed in the tweet which precedes it. The hashtag becomes a commentary, or maybe a contextual aside to give more depth to what has been said. In a medium where 140 characters are king and each character has to count, these hashtags have come to be a way to express far more than the tweet allowance normally permits.

I found myself thinking about this following this week’s incident involving Barcelona footballer Dani Alves and a racist taunt from the crowd. His brilliant riposte at having a banana thrown at him was to pick up the offending fruit and take a bite, before continuing with the game.

Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez
Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez

But what was more magnificent still was the social media reaction. Many notable footballers took to Twitter to post photographs of themselves eating bananas, and the banana habit swiftly became a viral phenomenon. But rather than new term such as Tebowing coming to the fore, at least not so far, the tweets all came with a hashtag of solidarity, namely #weareallmonkeys.

So what does the use of this hashtag tell us about language? Well firstly, it’s a bit like a badge, you in effect wear it on your tweet to show that you support the cause. Secondly, it’s a great example of words run together to create a meaning above and beyond that which is expressed in the original sentence which spawned it. If you had to define this example, you’d end up with something which nods to support for Alves’ action, is a general support for anti-racism work and also articulates the point that humans are all derived from the same source and that those who fail to understand this really should learn to. Not bad for four words strung together.

But finally we need to consider its status as a new word. It’s clearly not a word that will have a long life and end up in the Oxford English Dictionary. But in the language of Twitter, it is a new word, and it is used to mean all of the the things I have suggested whenever anybody appends it to their tweet. In this context, it has all the attributes of being a new word, though not in the conventional sense.

It is clear that as technology changes the way we communicate so the words that we use will change to keep pace. But what is becoming increasingly apparent is that the structure and formation of language itself is going to start to change, with new rules, new formations, and as hashtags suggest to us, new parts of speech. Or as they say on Twitter, #theenglishlanguageisalwayschanging.

Has Normcare Made Me Fashionable?

Anybody who knows me will appreciate that fashion is not something which I really spend any time thinking about. I want to look smart and like the clothes I wear, but I just choose stuff that I like and don’t worry about whether it is trendy or not.

Well now there is a new fashion trend in town, and a new word which is emerging as one of the strongest neologisms of 2014. Normcore was identified in February as a fashion trend where wearing similar clothes to other people is actually cool, and dressing in things which are comfortable and show you belong in society is acceptable and even something to be welcomed.

If I understand this correctly therefore, it seems to mean that is now trendy to wear normal clothes and stuff that you like, to dress like others in fact. I question my understanding of it, only because I have started reading articles by fashion writers on the subject and find that they make my head hurt within a few paragraphs. Even the habit of simply wearing normal clothes has now become the subject of torrents of analysis. Getting dressed in the morning has now become psychologically complicated.

Finally, fashion has caught up with what everybody else is doing. The question is, how long will it be cool to no longer be cool and when will it stop being cool to not be cool any longer? And no, I didn’t understand that either. That’s fashion for you.

Consciously Uncoupling The Language

I doubt that Gwyneth Paltrow was thinking much about her contribution to the English language when she announced her split from husband Chris Martin this week.

But by declaring that they were going to ‘consciously uncouple’, a new language phenomenon was born. Reams of copy about what conscious uncoupling truly means, social media hilarity as people put their own spin on the term referring to any kind of disengagement, cynicism over what it will do for book sales for therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas and her programme of the same name.

So will conscious uncoupling become a mainstream and established term for splitting up? No. But it is very likely to have a future as a term which is used ironically in break-up stories for years to come. You can easily imagine it appearing in inverted commas to give context to other stories, as a gauge of how amicable or otherwise a split seems in comparison to the Paltrow-Martin split.

We are not going to be able to consciously uncouple away from it any time soon.

Selfies Hit Rock Bottom With Belfies

I had hoped never to write about selfies again. They already feel so last year, notwithstanding the emergence of their farming offspring felfie. But there is an increasing trend for one more type of selfie, so I felt duty bound to record it in the annals of Wordability.

Basically, celebrities have been taking photos of their bottoms and posting them on social media. Belfies, as they have become known, first appeared at the end of 2013, but are being written about now in increasing numbers, with luminaries such as Ireland Baldwin, Pascal Craymer and Lucy Watson (no, I’ve never heard of any of them either) eager to get in on the act.

The derivation of Belfie is pretty straightforward – Bum and Selfie combined into a hilarious whole. But without wishing to be pedantic (not true), this formation is inaccurate. A Selfie is a photo taken of yourself, by yourself. Having looked at some Belfies, for research purposes only you understand, it seems to be anatomically impossible for most of these bottoms to have been photographed by the people to whom they belong. The only person I can think of with arms long enough to actually take a proper Belfie is Mr Tickle, and given the absence of orange blobs appearing in the Belfie annals, it seems he hasn’t succumbed yet.

So while Belfie might be around for some time to come, spend a moment realising that the word itself should not be defined as a photo taken by yourself of your own bottom. All that you could really photograph with normal arms might be encapsulated with a much more graphic word, which coincidentally ends up being a very useful term for describing people who put these images out on social media.

Neknomination A Worrying Trend

Words which originate from internet crazes are usually fairly harmless. Tebowing a couple of years ago, when people imitated American Football Star Tim Tebow’s victory pose in random places, was nothing more than harmless fun. Planking, where people lie down in random places, was also fun, but did lead to tragedies when people tried the activity in dangerous places.

But there seems to be nothing harmless about Neknomination, the latest craze sweeping social media and claiming lives in the process. If somebody is neknominated, then they are required to drink a large quantity of alcohol quickly and then post the video online to prove that they have done it. So potent are some of the cocktail combinations that people are drinking, that deaths have occurred as a result, and the word Neknomination is rapidly establishing itself as a key new word of 2014.

There is already a linguistic alternative, with Raknomination being spawned to mean nominating someone to do a random act of kindness, rather than risk their life with a drink. But in many ways, it will be good if this word does not get established, as it would probably imply that neknomination has disappeared from common usage once more.

Many internet crazes suggest that people have too much time on their hands, or feel the need to do stupid things to get a sense of belonging or social connection in their lives. What does it say about our society that people feel the need to swallow dangerous amounts of alcohol just to satisfy a dare?

Is this Victory Germangate?

I have always had a bit of an aversion to the suffix gate to denote a controversy. Two years ago I bemoaned its every-growing influence when the story of David Cameron, Rebekah Brooks and a horse hit the headlines and Horsegate was everywhere.

I ducked out altogether a few months later when the controversy over Government chief whip Andrew Mitchell, a gate and the claim he had called a policeman a pleb saw Plebgate enter common language and never go away again. I think the fact that this scandal was also referred to as Gategate just confirmed why I just find this coinage irritating.

But gate shows no sign of going away, and what might once have been a specifically English linguistic formation is now crossing into other languages. Gate as a suffix has been named as Germany’s Anglicism of the Year for 2013.

The panel noted that gate as a suffix has been used in Germany since Watergate in the 1970s, the scandal which gave rise to the whole gate industry, but it is only the last couple of years that it has really become commonplace, with more than a dozen gate scandals in the public eye in 2013. I can only wonder what Eggnog Gate was about.

Other Anglicisms which came into consideration were Fake as a prefix, Whistleblower, the ever-popular Selfie and Hashtag.

While awards like this are a bit of fun, they do point to the ever changing nature not just of English but also of other languages in the way that English is now influencing them. Once again, our increasing globalisation, and in particular the effects of the internet and social media, are confirming that the influences which affect language change are different to those of even five years ago, while change is increasingly a quick affair. Previous winners of this German prize, such as Crowdfunding and Shitstorm, show that as words become new and established in English so the best ones will almost jump across species and establish themselves within another tongue.

This has always happened, but the speed of adoption and the way that an increasing number of terms now seem to be establishing themselves in more than one language at the same time confirms yet again that we are in a fascinating era for language development, and the old rules are now being rewritten. And that’s a really exciting development to watch. Unless there is a gate involved, of course.

Don’t Be So Lumpatious

When you have an eight-year-old daughter, you find yourself inadvertently introduced to a whole new world of television. Maya has been a fan of a number of Nickelodeon shows of late, including iCarly and Victorious, and has also enjoyed Sam & Cat, the offspring of the two programmes.

So she was very excited when I told her I had a reason to write about Sam & Cat on Wordability. The reason? There is a new episode dedicated to the teens’ efforts to get a new word into the dictionary.

The word itself, Lumpatious, is of course not in any dictionary at the moment. Used as an adjective to criticise someone who is unpleasant and idiotic, the episode revolves around their ultimately successful effort to get the word included into the Oxnard English Dictionary.

I think there are a number of interesting things about this episode. Firstly, it actually has some fun with the dictionary process, and the Oxnard offices portrayed are quite amusing and of course utterly unlike their Oxford equivalents.

Secondly, it might make youngsters think a little bit about the words they use and how they get recognised, so if there is a genuinely educational element around the English langauge at the end of it all, then that is a good thing.

But finally, I think the show could become self-fulfilling. Two years ago, I wrote about the word Swapportunity, a word coined by Yoplait yoghurt, and while it is still not a word that is recognised by any authority, people are still searching for it and coming to my blog to find out more.

By including the word Lumpatious in a show popular with tweens and teens, you can easily imagine a situation where it becomes part of the fans’ vocabulary. And given the way that once these episodes have aired for the first time, their life appears to continue almost indefinitely with endless repeats, that word will simply be reinforced and will start to seep into vocabulary. It is already developing on Twitter. So a word which doesn’t exist and which was coined for a television programme will start to be used in real life because of that TV programme and will ultimately find its way into the dictionary. And so life will imitate art. And it won’t be lumpatious.