Tag Archives: english

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 rise of the Stabilitocracy

One of my favourite words in the early days of Wordability was Ineptocracy, defined as “a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing.” Given the events of the last couple of years in the US and the UK, it seems surprising that Ineptocracy has not come back into vogue.

However, a recently formed word with similar linguistic roots does seem to have more chance of becoming established as it skilfully manages to describe an evolving phenomenon in the realm of geo-politics.

Flag of Montenegro

Writing at the end of last year, Srđa Pavlović, who teaches at the University of Alberta, described Montenegro as a Stabilitocracy. His piece argued that despite evidence of corruption and voting irregularities within the country, the support conferred by the West on Prime Minister Milo Đukanović gave him and the country a sense of status and legitimacy, and this created the illusion of a totally stable country while glossing over the issues bubbling under the surface.

Sometimes, a term just works, and this is one such word, because Stabilitocracy has been picked up by others and is already being extended to other democracies where an apparent stability is not truly representative of the true nature of the country, especially across the wider Balkan region. The Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group has used the word to title a recent publication.

Aware of how the term has been used, Dr Pavlovic himself has published a detailed follow-up about how the term really encapsulates the relationship the West has with many of these emerging nations, skilfully demonstrating that by supporting what appears to be stability on the surface, the West risks creating longer-term issues. His point that Stabilitocracy “as a rule, produces everything but stability and security. More often than not, it legitimises the existing animosity towards the West and helps new resentment emerge and thrive where there was none,” is a disturbing description of what the future might be in these nations. The blog as a whole is an excellent read and demonstrates how sometimes, finding the right term can lead to a detailed and nuanced analysis of a complex situation which was not previously possible.

I have one quibble – I am finding Stabilitocracy a difficult word to say, and an even more difficult one to type. I keep having to slow down as I write to ensure I have got it right, which can affect the flow of my thoughts. A prosaic issue, but a practical one, which may hamper its chances of breaking out of what I am sure is a certain academic future into a more media-driven mainstream one.

That would be a shame. Stabilitocracy is a new term which is genuinely useful and perfectly captures a new and changing situation in modern politics, and I hope it comes to gain greater usage in time.

The true meaning of Covfefe

There has been a mass outbreak of new word fever this week after Donald Trump somehow contrived to tweet a word which nobody had ever heard of.

‘Despite the constant negative press covefefe’ he trumpeted, kicking off a social media firestorm as people fell over each other to define the word, use it in a range of hilarious images or generally just throw it into random sentences for comic effect. Even the President himself joined in the fun, with a follow-up tweet building on his earlier apparent error:

How we all laughed and enjoyed the joke – why, even the president was joining in, poking fun at himself, making himself part of a worldwide conversation in which he was in some ways the hero. Good old Donald Trump. Almost symblomatic of the man himself, you might say.

Of course, two days later, Mr Trump pulled the United States out of the global climate accord, risking huge danger to the planet both now and in the future. He was roundly condemned, villified, but at the same time, the covfefe momentum had not slowed.

So, conspiratorially, what if it was no accident? What if it was a deliberately insane tweet?

Therefore I present to you the true definition of Covfefe – a distraction created to make someone seem more human and appealing, thereby attempting to deflect some of the criticism likely to come their way after they do something particularly appalling and devastating.

In which respect, Mr Trump’s covfefe worked rather well.

Quidditch flies into new era

It’s not really a surprise that the inclusion of quidditch in the latest Oxford Dictionaries online update has garnered so much publicity. After all, Harry Potter is an international phenomenon, quidditch is now known the world over, as a word it is very well established.

US Quidditch

US Quidditch

Of course, it is not JK Rowling’s mythical game which has been recognised by the Oxford experts. Instead, it is the real-world equivalent, played by people who mount broomsticks and run around a field, throwing balls through hoops in a grounded version of the game popularised in the skies of Hogwarts. Such is the popularity of real-life Quidditch that there are two competing authorities in the United States responsible for tournaments, rules and so on, while the rapid worldwide growth of the game since it was first played in 2005 attests to not only the enduring popularity of Potter but also to the fact that it is evidently enjoyed by those who take part.

The reasoning for its inclusion is therefore completely sound – a new sport, now established, with a name that needs to be recorded. I guess the irony for a lot of people is that they are not actually aware of this version, and will have assumed that it was the fictional equivalent which had received lexicographical recognition. Which of course would not have happened.

Nevertheless, I wonder whether there is a certain uniqueness to the word quidditch. Words from fiction are a well known source of neologisms – the latest Oxford update includes cromulent, coined on The Simpsons, and embiggen, popularised on the same programme. But they are words which are used with the meaning which they have carried over from their TV appearances.

It is not just that the quidditch immortalised in the dictionary is different to the original fictional version. It is that something in fiction has inspired the creation of a real-world equivalent, and it is the real-world equivalent which is now recognised. I am trying to think of another example of something created in fiction which has subsequently been made real and then gone on to become established in the language in its new incarnation.

I am not coming up with anything else, but I am happy to be corrected. If anybody can think of other examples, please leave them in the comments below.

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

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.

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.