Tag Archives: barack_obama

Will The Whitelash Last?

One of the strangest things about the tumultuous political events of this year is that the reality of what it will all mean is still to come. 2016 is the year of Trump, the year of Brexit. But in some senses, it isn’t at all. The effects of the Trump presidency will not be fully felt until the start of 2017, the ramifications of Brexit will play out over a number of years. This is the year when the world changed – the next few years will tell us how much.

From a linguistic point of view, it is inevitable that new words and phrases will start to come into our language as the new realities take effect. One that has been around since last year is Trumpism, but interestingly it still feels a little like a word in search of a fully defined meaning. What is clear is that in the short-term, it will be used as the catch-all headline term for all policies and agendas set by the future US President, and a clear understanding of the values it represents will only really become apparent over the next few months.

A clearer word emerged in the immediate aftermath of the election. CNN commentator Van Jones felt that the result could partly be explained by a backlash of white people in the States against a black president, while the other issues of racism present in those working definitions of Trumpism also played their part. He termed the reaction a Whitelash, a word that has quickly caught hold and become of the key buzzwords that commentators the world over have used when describing the result.

It is understandable and tempting for people to hang on to words such as this as they seek to make sense of the week we have just witnessed. The reason this one seems to work is that it gets to the heart of one of the key issues of the election and brings to the fore issues of racism which are disturbing to many of us, making those ideas central to the overall result. I suspect that the term whitelash will be around in political comment for some time to come, especially with a round of volatile elections in Europe just around the corner.

On a lighter note, it was almost inevitable that UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson would try to get in on the act. He has been reusing Gloomadon Poppers with almost monotonous regularity over the last few months, but this week tried for a new entry in the annals of words that nobody will ever use with ‘whinge-o-rama’, saying that the collective whinge-o-rama over the Trump victory had to stop. I wonder if there was a whinge-o-rama in the Johnson household when his bid to become Prime Minister became unstuck? There may well be one when he finds that yet another of his neologisms has disappeared without a trace.

Four years ago, I wrote a number of blog posts about Mitt Romney and his almost insatiable need to mangle the English language at any given opportunity. But this year’s election does not feel like a time to make jokes about the way words are used. I now need to keep track of the words and phrases used by the new administration to see how language is being modfied to exert influence and whether words are being coined or redefined to create danger in both subtle and unsubtle ways. The power of the spoken word and its ability to create great change and danger is now more real than it has been for a long time. The internet allows ideas to spread like wildfire. New words and meanings can take hold almost before we have realised. Rhetoric can have a profound effect that nobody expected. Tracking how these things evolve is now increasingly vital.

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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.

Don’t Fall Over The Fiscal Cliff

There is a late entrant in the word of the year stakes. More likely, there is a front-runner for the 2013 crown. It is becoming hard to avoid the Fiscal Cliff.

The Fiscal Cliff is a term that has been coined to describe a looming financial precipice in the United States. It is a confluence of coming togethers of the end of certain tax laws and a decrease in Government spending, and commentators are worried about the effect on the US economy if legislation is not passed which could prevent all of this from happening.

Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, is being credited with coining the phrase, having used it in evidence to the House Financial Services Commission at the end of February. He actually isn’t the first, as it appeared in analysis of George Bush’s tax cuts two years after the end of his presidency. But there is no doubt that Mr Bernanke’s usage put the term on the linguistic map.

That said, it is only in the last few weeks that it has found its way into general conversation and started appearing in earnest across the media. Given that the fiscal cliff is just around the corner, that is not really a surprise.

Maybe what is a surprise is that the term has simply been accepted and is being used by everybody, probably without really understanding it. I feel the same way about it as I did about haircut entering the vernacular last year – a term that was popular among economic commentators crossed over into the mainstream and using it seemed to confer some kind of special, inside knowledge on the users, it is almost said with a nod and a wink to those also on the inside.

For the rest of us, we hear it and then have to go and look it up and try and understand it. Shorthand phrases are good for encapsulating stories and letting everybody know what the subject is, but when they are used regularly in conversation as if everybody knows what they mean, then that can become annoying.

Thank goodness the Simpsons have been around to help explain it.

Romnesia: The Key Word of 2012 Campaign?

Regular readers of Wordability will know just how much I love Mitt Romney. And no, that is not a political statement at all, merely an acknowledgement of how many times linguistic issues seem to have followed him around during this lengthy election campaign.

But does the campaign finally have the new word that will prove decisive? I wrote at the start of the year about how individual words have the power to win elections, with Change helping to lead Barack Obama to glory four years ago.

So far in 2012, no word has quite emerged as decisive. Mr Romney has tried, but Obamaloney was poor. Instead, he has constantly found himself at the mercy of linguistic disasters not of his own making, while phrases like 47% and Binders Full of Women have dogged him.

And now, it looks like the President has cracked it. In a speech in Virginia, Mr Obama characterised his opponent’s ability to change his mind and position on key issues as ‘Romnesia’.

And it worked. The crowd loved it. More importantly, the Twitter crowd loved it. It trended madly on the network immediately, and has quickly established itself as a hashtag to be appended to anything even vaguely anti-Republican.

It’s a great neologism. It makes you think of Romney. It makes you think of forgetting. And it encapsulates the character flaw that Mr Obama wants to draw attention to. It could do for this election what flip-flop did for George Bush against John Kerry by becoming the word which crystallises the campaign and leads to eventual victory.

Have I overstated this? It’s hard to say. In the minds of the undecided voters, one new word can stick. And finding that key new word which is never forgotten could ultimately make the difference.

Eastwooding Makes My Linguistic Day

It would have been easy to assume that when Clint Eastwood was lined up to speak at the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney might have been sitting back and looking forward to to the positive publicity glow which the grizzled actor’s words would bathe him in.

Alas, no. This is Mitt Romney we are talking about, Wordability’s unlikely folk hero, and a man dogged by linguistic disaster wherever he treads.

And so it is with Clint. His ringing endorsement is being remembered not for the positive words he spoke about Mr Romney, but about the bizarre scene he acted out when he accosted an invisible Barack Obama, who was represented by an empty chair. And so, Eastwooding was born.

As Tebowing before it, so images are swamping the internet of people pointing at, basically, empty chairs. They are Eastwooding. The word is sweeping across the globe, and is rapidly gaining in usage.

Will it last beyond the week? Unlikely, and if it does, only until election time in a couple of months. Is it the word for which Clint would want to be remembered? Definitely not. And as for Mr Romney? He will be hoping that come debate time, Mr Obama remembers to turn up. He wouldn’t want to be Eastwooding live on national television.

Is Romney Hood A Case of Obamaloney?

I think Mitt Romney has been reading Wordability. The Republican candidate for the US Presidency has featured on these cyber pages a disproportionate amount of times in the last few weeks, so has clearly decided that if I am going to write about him, he had better actively coin a new word rather than have one made for him.

And so is born Obamaloney. Now non-Wordability fans will conclude that Mr Romney is looking for a word with which to attack the president, and feels that this neologism sums up the idea that Mr Obama’s attacks on him are full of nonsense, or baloney, to borrow the vernacular.

Others might contend that he came up with the word to counter Romney Hood, the Obama language attack which seeks to characterise his tax plans as stealing from the poor to benefit the rich.

But of course, they would be wrong. Mr Romney was keen for some positive coverage on Wordablity, and so he got into the world of coining new words in order to curry favour with me.

The problem? The word has to be good. It has to trip off the tongue. It has to be obvious what it means. And does Obamaloney succeed in any of this? Er, no.

Another fine Romneyshambles then.

WTF! BFD is TNA

It’s not quite true to say that BFD is a TNA, but many have been saying it’s the new LOL.

BFD as an abbreviation meaning ‘Big F***cking Deal’ (language cleaned up because I know my mother reads this blog) is not new. But it has recently emerged into political discussion in America, thence onto Twitter and is now being touted by linguists as the next big things in abbreviations.

Of course, I’m not actually sure there is a next big thing in abbreviations. Linguistics isn’t showbiz, sadly. It would be nice to imagine that the abbreviation police are trawling the internet and that as soon as they come across this blog and TNA (Trendy New Abbreviation), the metaphorical trumpets will come out and it will start to adorn all short-form communication within minutes.

BFD T-shirtBut I digress, badly. Two years ago, US Vice President Joe Biden said that Barack Obama’s healthcare bill was not just a big deal, it was a “big f***ing deal” (hopefully my mother is still reading, you see). And with the bill recently being upheld by the Supreme Court, the Obama administration has taken to selling suitably emblazoned BFD T-shirts, (for a BFP, incidentally). The Romney campaign has criticised the behaviour as unpresidential, and the Twittersphere has gone crazy with BFD-related postings.

So the debate has been about whether BFD will become as well established as its elder statesmen, with LOL cited as as the one to beat, which begs the question of what David Cameron might believe BFD stands for. The article hyperlinked above says that the jury is still out, and quotes linguist Allan Metcalf and his scale to decide whether the word will last. The scale awards marks of 0, 1 or 2 for each of five categories:  frequency of use, unobtrusiveness, diversity of users, ability to generate related neologisms, and endurance of the concept it describes. Mr Metcalf gives BFD a paltry three points in total, suggesting it is au revoir to BFD.

I’m not so sure. I think the process of new word acceptance is beginning to change, thanks entirely to the internet. The article mentioned above says this process has not changed for a number of years, and that it takes time for a new word to bed in and get established. But with the power of global communication, and the velocity with which things become cemented on Twitter and other social media, new words and ideas now become part of the fabric of society substantially quicker. The abbreviations we now take for granted are all children of the texting age, a period that is no time at all in the entire history of human language.

It would not surprise me at all if the current popularity of BFD is a long-running thing, and it becomes just as established as all the others. And then we’ll just be saying that the debate was a BFD over nothing.