No Laziness on Climate Change

Nominations for words of the year are not just a sign that Christmas is around the corner – it reminds me that my stated aim to write regular Wordability columns has foundered once again. Clearly Laziness around my blog output should be my personal word of the year for 2019.

But one thing that is interesting about the choices for the UK’s two most prominent nominators is how similar their decisions are. Collins Dictionaries went first, picking Climate Strike as word of the year – Oxford Dictionaries has now followed with Climate Emergency.

Climate protestThis shouldn’t really be a surprise – despite the current UK fixation on Brexit and the ongoing election campaign, many are arguing that this focus on domestic issues  is distracting from the climate, which should be viewed as the single most important issue facing anybody at the moment. Collins and Oxford have tapped into the way that public events around the climate have really burrowed into public consciousness this year, and have come up with two sides of the same story as a way of summing up the year.

The reason that I was surprised though was that it has often felt like the dictionary makers are consciously vying with each other to choose different words, and that Oxford Dictionaries’ choices have sometimes seemed quite left-field. I’ve speculated in the past that they have suffered from being second off the blocks every year with making their decision. I was particularly struck by this in 2016, when Collins Dictionaries chose Brexit, which seemed to be the only word that anybody was using for those 12 months, and Oxford Dictionaries went with post-truth, which while apposite didn’t seem to me to quite hit the mark.

So this year I think that both dictionary makers have made decisions which are easy to agree with. And it has reminded me that while laziness around climate change is the thing which we all need to avoid in order to protect our planet, I will also be doing my level best to beat my blogging laziness and try to write more about the endless changes in the English language.

Binge-Watch the Surprise Choice

Word of the year season is upon us, and I have been wondering of late what words would end up taking the gongs this year, given the generally disappointing nature of the new words which have emerged during 2015.

So in that respect, the first winner out of the blocks is entirely in keeping with the less than stellar linguistic year we have been through. Collins Dictionaries has chosen ‘Binge-Watch’ as its word of 2015.

Now there is no denying that binge-watching, the viewing of multiple episodes of a television series in a short time span, is on the rise. New viewing habits and on demand video services have changed the nature of the way we watch television, and access to box sets is increasing. My concern is not with the word itself, it is more with the fact that it doesn’t feel to me like this year has been the year when binge-watching has come of age. I think it had already come of age and was already entrenched, and this year has not been significantly different to last year, though Collins do cite a 200% increase in usage. I suspect that growth probably happened the year before as well. I also don’t feel it defines the year, like a good winner should. And it featured in the Oxford Word of the Year shortlist in 2013.

To me, some of the other words on the Collins shortlist are more representative of 2015 than the eventual winner. Corbynomics, the economic policies advocated by the UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is included, and Jeremy Corbyn’s influence on the language has already been documented on Wordability this year. Transgender, relating to a person whose gender identity does not fullycorrespond to the sex assigned to them at birth, has been a big discussion point. And Contactless, making payments without signature or PIN, has gone increasingly mainstream this year and would have been a justified winner.

So the benchmark has been set for Word of the Year winners. I hope that subsequent winners will be able to exceed it.

Geeks Inherit The Earth

I’ve always wondered a little why Oxford Dictionaries unveils its word of the year in November, when there is still quite a bit of the year left to run. But now I can see the advantage of going first. You become the word of the year by which all other words of the year are judged, and you also ensure that other esteemed language bodies have to choose something else.

I think that since Selfie was unveiled as the Oxford choice, it has become established in people’s minds as the definitive word of the year, a status of course helped by Barack Obama et al. Nevertheless, further nominations have followed, and the latest two are interesting in different ways.

Collins dictionary has gone with Geek. I think this choice has been made for reasons more to do with the English language itself, rather than as a reflection of what society has been doing for the last 12 months. The main reason behind Geek’s prominence in Collins’ eyes is that its definition has now been radically changed over the last 12 months. No longer a pejorative term which almost demeans those to whom it is applied, it is now defined as “a person who is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about a specific subject”. The addition of further terms such as Geekery and Geekdom simply sealed the deal.

It’s interesting reasoning but I wonder whether geek really has completely shaken off its past. The people I know in technology still describe themselves geeks in a tongue in cheek, slightly embarrassed way, rather than in a way that seems to wear it like a badge of honour. And in much the same way that Swedish nerds campaigned for a similar redefinition last year, I feel that this kind of alteration loses something of the genuine meaning of the word. has taken an alternative approach, going for a word that is neither new nor altered during the year, but has instead summed up the overriding themes 0f 2013. That choice is Privacy, and in an interesting analysis it cites Edward Snowden and Google among others that have contributed to privacy’s prevalence over the year.

If you are going down this route for your selections, then I think this one fits the bill pretty well as it certainly focuses on issues that have been strongly in people’s minds during 2013. I think it is certainly a more suitable choice than Merriam-Webster’s recent selection of Science.

So we now have Selfie, Bitcoin, Science, Geek and Privacy all rejoicing as words of the year. And Phubbing of course. I still prefer that above all others.

Amazeballs to Zhoosh: Collins’ First Fruits

The dictionary revolution has truly started. Collins recently announced plans to open up the dictionary-making process to the public, and the What’s Your Word feature is now a permanent slot on the company’s website, allowing anybody to submit a word for lexicographical consideration.

Well Collins has now revealed the first words which it will include in its online dictionary. It’s a pleasingly eclectic bunch, reflecting a wide range of subjects and showcasing many words which have long since deserved their place in official reference books.

Unsurprisingly, words from technology provide fertile ground for the list. BBM and Bing carry the flag for Blackberry and Microsoft, while Twitter is well represented with three entries, Tweetup, Twitterer and Twittersphere. Bashtag, a critical hashtag, is also included. It’s also good to see more generic terms like Liveblog, Captcha and Cyberstalking making the cut.

One trend in the list is new definitions for existing words, such as Facebook as a verb, as in To Facebook someone, a usage which Wordability discussed last year. My niece will also be pleased to see that Sick, meaning good, has now been included, as it means I will no longer give her a hard stare every time I hear her say it.

Much slang and informality has been recognised for the permanent place it now has in the language. As well as the titular Amazeballs (enthusiastic approval) and Zhoosh (to make more exciting), words such as Bridezilla (an intolerable planner of her own wedding), Frenemy (a friend who behaves like an enemy) and Mummy Porn (erotic fiction for women) are bound to get attention.

There are some unusual additions. Indian cookery is a surprisingly tasty element to the list of words, with Dosa and Sambar being included, as well as Daal as an alternative spelling of Dal. Some regional dialect words are also in, such as Frape from the South West, meaning tightly bound, or Marra, a mate in Northern England. There were also some I had not heard before which simply made me laugh, such as Hangry, meaning irritable because you haven’t eaten, a state I am perpetually in, or Photobomb, which means to go into the background of somebody’s photo without realising it.

It really struck me though how useful this whole enterprise has been. I was frankly surprised to see some of the words and usages included for the first time, such as Faff as a noun, meaning something is a bit awkward to do, or Oojamaflip, a term for something when you can’t quite remember what it is. It’s a reminder that it does take a long time for terms to make it to the dictionary.

Nevertheless, Collins’ efforts to let the world at large add to the dictionary-making process is to be applauded. This first tranche of words helps its online dictionary get bang up to date. With the initiative remaining in place, it will be in pole position to add words as soon as they gain some currency and will surely help the company reflect English as it is spoken today.

Collins Makes The Dictionary Democratic

A new initative by Collins dictionaries could change the way that dictionaries are compiled forever. The company is asking members of the public to submit words to be considered for future editions.

Submission is clearly not a guarantee of success – all suggested words are put through the same rigorous assessment that a word selected by an editor would then undergo. But the amount of coverage this story has received, together with the number of words being suggested, shows just how interested people are in the evolution of English and the new words that are constantly emerging.

It is also encouraging to see some of the words being suggested, with Wordability favourites such as omnishambles and Tebowing battling with cyberstalking, amazeballs and mantyhose for attention. At this stage, nobody knows how many of these will finally be accepted. But if they are, it will prove that the acceptance process is becoming as quick as it needs to be in the age of the internet.

The level of interest has been something of a surprise to Alex Brown, the head of digital at Harper Collins. Wordability spoke to him shortly after the launch of the What’s Your Word initiative, and during the conversation, the 2,000th word was submitted. It was prairiedogged, the feeling of helplessness that overtakes you when co-workers in neighbouring cubicles constantly pop their heads up to ask you trivial, silly or frivolous questions. It was subsequently rejected by editors.

Its rejection confirms that this is still serious dictionary-making, with the submission process the only part which has been opened up. Alex told me: “This isn’t Urban Dictionary. We still have a team of editors and researchers who moderate to see if the words meet the minimum level of criteria and we are not changing that as we see it as a strength. The site opens a window on that whole process.”

He said that while they expected to receive words from technology and social media, there have been some surprises. “We have been surprised by the number of regional dialect words, and some of them are difficult to find evidence of because they are spoken not written. The global nature has also been a surprise, with quite a lot of words from India, for example, which are concepts around religion or food.”

Alex said that What’s Your Word will now be a permanent feature of the Collins process. At the moment, words which are approved still have to wait a few weeks to receive their dictionary stripes, but in time, he would like to see that process made live.

One of the advantages of this process is that words can now reach dictionaries quicker. I have often bemoaned how slow the Oxford English Dictionary is to accept new words, and while Collins will still have the final say, What’s Your Word will perform the vital process of recognising that language change itself has changed, and that the dictionary process needs to evolve along with that.

A Feast of Lexicography

It’s been a fertile few weeks for lovers of new words. The Oxford English Dictionary has just issued its quarterly update, with details of its newest entries. This follows hot on the heels of new editions of two concise dictionaries, both of which achieved media coverage for their particular choice of trendy new word.

The OED has highlighed a number of the new words in its update. These include ambo, a member of an ambulance crew; kewl, an exagerrated version of cool; and Britcom, a British situation comedy.

What is interesting is how long it has taken for some words to actually be included in the OED. Wordability will always be interested in new word updates from dictionary publishers. But this blog will primarily be looking to pick up on new words and usages before they are finally legitimised by lexicographers, especially given how long this appears to take.

For example, the OED is now including stitch-up, which is of course the framing of an individual. It is, I’m sure, a word that most of us are familiar with. The OED even cites the first usage as 1980, making its 30-year wait hugely surprising. Zaatar, a middle eastern spice mix, has waited even longer and was first cited in 1917. A Zaatar stitch-up perhaps?

Also interesting are some of the words in the full list of newbies which are not highlighted by the editors. These include afterfeather, framboidal, house conventicle, picocell and take-no-shit. This week’s homework from Wordability is to find out the meaning of the above words and then put them into a coherent sentence. I expect many of you will find a suitable usage for the last word on this list in response.

Other dictionaries have recently put new words on bookshelves. Back in August, The Concise Oxford Dictionary celebrated its 100th anniversary with offerings such as mankini, jeggings, sexting and cyberbullying.

A week or so later, the new edition of Chambers Dictionary appeared, with words such as crowdsourcing, paywall and staycation, though interestingly, sexting did not pass the Chambers test, pointing to an interesting difference in criteria between rival dictionary editors.

But almost more eye-opening was the outpouring of nostalgia for words being removed from dictionaries. Oxford’s decision to discard cassette tape led to much online breast-beating as people pointed out that they were still using cassette tapes, and that despite CDs, MP3s and others, cassettes were still a valid way to listen to music.

But even more bizarre was the reaction to an announcement from Collins. Collins has not even released its new dictionary but did take the opportunity of the flurry of dictionary news to announce that some words would not be making the cut for its next edition later this year.

There seemed to be particular sadness over the loss of charabanc, a mode of horse-drawn transport which is clearly outdated but seemed to affect people disproportionately by its departure.

I don’t think this reaction was anything to do with a group of disenfranchised charabanc drivers fighting back. It seemed instead to point to a wistfulness for a golden age and an acknowledgement that former, more innocent times have long since passed.

Having said that, any declaration that a word is going out of date is clearly a challenge for hacks everywhere. Within days, the Sun, writing about Arsenal, said: “The night they lived to fight another day when, at one time, the whole out-of-control charabanc seemed to be heading for the rocks below.”

Charabanc may yet be saddling up for a reprieve.