Making Up For Lost Time

I ran out of time to write a new Wordability post last week. Basically, I just didn’t organise myself properly. Fortunately, I have had a couple of linguistic pointers recently to help myself prepare a better schedule so that I can continue to publish once a week.

Inspiration comes of course from Donald Trump, amid reports that a large amount of his daily schedule is devoted to something called ‘Executive Time’. Naturally enough his staff has been quick to characterise these great swathes of undocumented hours as opportunities for the President to be busy with all manner of important activities which he doesn’t want officially recorded.

But inevitably, it has become another linguistic stick with which to beat the President, with the phrase becoming rapidly adopted as a way to criticise what he may, or may not be doing, while others are now simply using the phrase Executive Time as their excuse for not having got on with an activity that they were really supposed to have accomplished. Clearly, I am doing the same, and was flat out with Executive Time last week, so couldn’t write Wordability.

The interesting thing is why it seems to be particularly prevalent now. Executive Time as a concept first appeared just over a year ago, but has gained new oxygen recently. Perhaps it’s the President’s possible redefinition of the term ‘National Emergency’ which has focused attention on some of the other phrases which surround him.

I’m not convinced that Executive Time is the best way to get anything done. Perhaps Micro-Scheduling would be the better option. Micro-Scheduling involves planning everything down to the second so that maximum productivity can be achieved. This seems the very antithesis of Executive Time, unless that time is filled with a micro schedule which is not made public. On balance though I doubt that even a meticulously planned week would have allowed me to write a blog. I find that when I have a week which is packed full of scheduled activity, I have enough energy left to crawl onto the nearest couch and eat crisps. In truth, these options seem like opposite ends of the productivity schedule, and neither is really the path to success.

Whichever way we choose to plan our time, young people have certainly been in the news recently trying to make the most of it. We were treated to the UK’s first ‘Student Strike’ this week as thousands of schoolchildren descended on City Centres to protest about Climate Change. Though if you believed Conservative Minister Andrea Leadsom, there is a different way to define the term:

So, good to see our political leaders taking the views of young people seriously.

A Cambridge Professor has also been interested by the activities of the young, and has suggested they might be reacting to something he has termed Nepocide, a portmanteu of Nepotism and Genocide. Professor Tony Booth, a Research Fellow at the Centre for Commonwealth Education at the University of Cambridge, defines it as: “the conscious willingness to sacrifice future generations for current convenience.” It seems that young people are fighting back against this and may not be prepared to accept that some of the luxuries we live with today are worth it, if there is too high a price to pay tomorrow. The Student Strike would support this way of thinking, though Andrea Leadsom might disagree.

And to finish, something completely different. The term Bokeh is one that is well known from photography circles, meaning the ability to blur out certain parts of a photo to accentuate others, something which is now possible on smartphones such as the iPhone. Apple has released a new advert where one mother is angry with another for using this effect to make her child blurry in the background. “Why did you bokeh my child?” she asks:

Is To Bokeh set to become a new insult in the world of smartphone photography. Or has this been at the heart of all our issues all along. Perhaps Donald Trump’s full schedule was merely Bokeh’d before we got to see it.

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The language of love

While the creativity of the English language never ceases to entertain me, one thing it doesn’t tend to do is become full of words which are particularly long.

Thank goodness then for a brief diversion provided by Welsh, where a new word coined this week has certainly set a pleasing bar for longest new word of the year in any language.

To promote the Welsh launch of Lumen, a dating app for the over-50s, the word credwchmewncariadarôlpumdegoherwyddeifodmorllawennawrfelybuerioed has been coined.

Tripping nicely off the tongue, the word was created by writer Sarah Russell from Monmouthshire, and it was constructed to include the words’cariad’ (love), ‘credwch’ (believe) and ‘llawen’ (joyful).

It now rivals famous placename Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch and at seven characters longer, may yet achieve greater fame than its predecessor. I just want to see both words together on a billboard.

One thing English speakers the world over love to talk about is the weather, and the extreme weather being experienced in many places is leading to the inevitable conversations about whether we need some new words to discuss particular weather phenomena.

One word which got particular usage in England this week was Thundersnow, which while not new is certainly not common. But despite the dire warnings of snow-filled storms lashing the countryside, the Thundersnow didn’t materialise, meaning the word needs to return to the sidelines.

One person never on the sidelines of course is Donald Trump, and this week, he found a way to temporarily end the shutdown of the US Federal Government. It was suggested that Democrat House Leader Nancy Pelosi had ‘dog walked’ him into submission, leading to suggestions that Dog Walk is an early contender in the World of the Year stakes. It will be interesting to see if this phrase develops over the year.

So the moral of this week’s words – find love, avoid bad weather, walk your dog.

Trump Gives Us Food For Thought

In a week in which an egg has become the most liked post in the history of Instagram, it seems appropriate that a mistaken Donald Trump Tweet about food should have become one the most parodied of the week.

With the partial government shutdown in the US still ongoing, the President boasted about the fast food feast he served to his visitors from American College Football team the Clemson Tigers. However, the internet went into a predictable frenzy of delight when he described the thousand ‘hamberders’ he had brought in for his guests.

Typical online meltdown ensured, as people scrambled to come up with hilarious definitions of hamberder.

And of course, Mr Trump has form here, as many remembered his Covfefe fiasco and suggested serving a cup of it to go along with his imaginary new food.

Is all of this funny? Yes, I suppose so. Does it get a bit tiresome after a while? Yes, absolutely. A part of me just gets a bit fed up with internet wags jumping on every typo, error or other slight misjudgement to race online and show just how clever they are.

Of course these errors can be used for satirical purpose, and the ingenuity that’s out there is often amusing and pointed. But when there are so many significant issues around the world, does the obsession with eggs and misspelt hamburgers signify that people are now totally disengaged from things which matter? Or are we so bound up with the problems of everyday life that any excuse to escape will be leapt upon? I’m not trying to be a curmudgeon here, but I am just a bit bored of knowing that every time somebody significant makes a slight error, the internet reflex will go into overdrive to take advantage of it as people chase not to be left behind.

Maybe it is an example of Politainment, a word which has been around for some time and means the use of elements of PR or other entertainment norms to make political points. It wasn’t a word I had thought of much but I came across an opinion piece by a Colorado-based lawyer which seemed appropriate, given the narrative of the week.

Away from the internet, one other language story which has engaged people this week has been the release of a dictionary of Yorkshire terms, researched painstakingly by historian Dr George Redmonds, who died last year. His work has been completed and put online, allowing people to look up bizarre and unusual Yorkshire terms from years gone by.

If you’re interested, a Gripe Egg is the term for the egg of a Griffin. So maybe I should create a picture of one of those to see if I can become next week’s Instagram sensation.

English in the Shithole

Back in the day when Wordability was just a twinkle in my eye, there was no way I would have written the above headline. After all, certain words were simply taboo, and any self-respecting publication would have an asterisk policy in place and would give serious thought to whether the asterisks themselves were acceptable in such a prominent place.

Not any more. Now, apparently shithole is journalistically acceptable. And while it is generally regarded as being unacceptable language for a president, its general appearance across the world’s media last week in its unexpurgated form signalled that for swear words, the landscape has now changed.

The reality is, that our swear words have undergone a metamorphosis over the last few years, so that those things which were taboo to say and write when I was growing up, are now regarded as acceptable, normal, not even that shocking any more. Shithole is clearly de rigeur, annoyed people say they are ‘pissed’ on TV programmes all the time, ‘bloody’ and ‘bollocks’ seem to be barely swear words at all.

And as for the language my five-year-old uses, if I’d used words like ‘bum’ and ‘fart’ in polite company at his age, that company would have been a lot less polite in reminding me that saying such things was unacceptable. Now they seem to be normal words in a child’s vocabulary.

So is it a bad thing that our swear words seem to have become less, well, sweary? I actually think it is, in many ways. After all, we need taboo words because they serve a function. They allow us to relieve stress in a way that no other form of language can. They’re funny when used in the right context. And they carry a necessary ability to shock when used in particular circumstances. President Trump’s alleged shithole remark shocked because it was not the context to use such a word. But in our everyday lives now, swearing has become so much the norm and the potency of certain words has reduced so much, that we are no longer surprised at what we hear and more likely to swear ourselves as part of our normal discourse.

Certain words are still of course completely taboo in polite conversation, but if the current trend is to reach its natural conclusion, then even the f word might eventually become the kind of thing you could say to your grandmother without expecting her to keel over from the shock. And if our litany of swear words is to evolve into a collection which is just mildly rude, then we will need some new words to take their place, some neologisms, preferably related to bodily functions, to emerge from the gloom as our profanities of choice.

Donald Trump’s diplomacy skills have reminded us that cursing in the English language is something which is definitely changing. May that be his most damaging legacy.

An Unpresidented Presidency

Donald Trump’s ascent to the Presidency this year has already made an indelible mark on the English language. Phrases like ‘Drain the Swamp’ and ‘Lock her up’ became an integral part of his campaign rhetoric and are continuing to be widely used, showing the power of finding the right terms and sticking with them in order to get your message across.

But one entertaining linguistic legacy of this year is a word which isn’t a word, and ceased to exist almost immediately after its brief birth on social media. In a tweet where he accused the Chinese of stealing a US drone, he described it as an ‘Unpresidented’ act. The word was swiftly deleted in favour of the always intended ‘Unprecedented’. But the power of the President Elect’s Twitter ramblings is such that once there has been a social media utterance, it will never go away again.

Amusingly, the Guardian newspaper promptly picked Unpresidented as its word of the year, and coined various definitions to do with unfitness for Presidency, the carrying out of un-Presidential acts or the saying of things which people are not really thinking at all.

Unpresidented is already showing signs of catching on in the arena in which it was first coined, with derogatory tweets about the incoming president being marked with an Unpresidented hashtag. It also gives commentators a term which in some ways encapsulates the astonishing sequence of events which we have seen unravel in the US this year. Don’t be surprised if this word is used to describe some of Mr Trump’s actions post-inauguration and he ends up being hoist by his own Twitter petard.

It is also not the first time that the Donald has used a non-word which people have nonetheless been interested in. I wrote some years ago about the word Symblomatic, which he used when discussing the Oscars. I found that searches for the word kept bringing traffic back to Wordability for quite some time after he said it, so even four years ago, there was an interest in Mr Trump’s peculiar regard for the English language.

The difference this time though is that any linguistic mistakes he makes from January 20 next year could have rather more far-reaching consequences.

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.

From Corbynmania to Trumpism

There are currently election campaigns taking place on either side of the Atlantic, both of which have conspired to be a great deal more interesting that we might have expected. In the UK, the election of a new leader for the opposition Labour party would normally be something of no more than passing interest to most, until the result is announced. And yet, the story has maintained its place in the headlines as the result looms on Saturday.

Meanwhile in the States, the early skirmishes in the battle to become the Republican nomination for president in a year’s time might not normally be front page news as a bloated field battles to be winnowed down to a more manageable number.

So what has elevated these two stories to heights which might not have been expected? I think the answer is the presence of a maverick candidate in each one, somebody who has emerged wholly unexpectedly from the pack to lead the polling and thereby create a wave of momentum which opponents currently seem powerless to stop. In the UK, it is veteran left-winger Jeremy Corbyn. In the US, it is business legend Donald Trump.

Wordability’s interest comes off the back of that. For each of the leading men, a word has been coined to become the key term for their campaign, and they are now bandied about as the standard ways to refer to what is going on. In the UK, we have Corbynmania. In the US, it’s Trumpism.

Of the two, I think Corbynmania is easier to explain and understand. The word refers to the groundswell of support for the 66-year-old and the general sense that he has created a new excitement and engagement in politics, there is currently a hysteria around him which appears to be carrying him to victory. The word describes the mood.

The big question is what will happen once the election is over. Clearly if Corbyn loses, then Corbynmania as a movement is over, in much the same way that Cleggmania is a historical reminder of 2010. If he wins, then it certainly continues, at least for the short term, but could then easily go the same way as the erstwhile Lib Dem leader if his tenure in the hot seat turns out to be less than stellar. Either way, I expect Corbynmania to be remembered as a key word of this year, even if it doesn’t have longevity.

Donald Trump campaign websiteTrumpism is an altogether different case. Rather than a description of support, Trumpism is an ethos and an ideology of itself, and is used in commentary as a way of distancing the Republican front-runner from the rest of the field. You either believe in Trumpism or you don’t, and increasingly, it seems that vast numbers of Americans do.

The problem for me, looking out from the other side of the ocean, is trying to get a true handle on what Trumpism actually means. Even the different definitions of it online seem to be struggling slightly. Is it an ’empty kind of mean-spiritness’, a form of fascism or ‘the whining of the privileged‘. I must admit I don’t entirely get it.

Maybe it’s one of those things you simply understand if you are in the States. If you live and work there, Donald Trump represents something appreciably different from what has gone before and taps into values which it is entirely possible we outsiders fail to grasp and which resonates with enough Americans to make it significant. That could explain why Trumpism may be here to stay for some time.

Well-chosen words have always had the power to influence political debate and campaigning. As these two election battles have shown, winning the lexical war can often be the path to winning the ballot as well.