Beware the Smombie Apocalypse

Sometimes a word is so perfect that once somebody mentions it, everbody else has to follow suit. One such example has flooded the press in the UK in the last few days. It is the rise of the Smombie.

Smombie, short for Smartphone Zombie, describes behaviour which we increasingly see the world over, and which we are all almost certainly guilty of. It is the habit of checking your mobile phone while walking along and becoming oblivious to all around you, running the risk of causing yourself, and others, zombie-like danger.

The sudden appearance of the word is not tied into anything particular. Smombie was actually named as the German youth word of 2015, though this itself was not a popular decision as the word seemed more to denigrate smartphone users rather than celebrate them and was noted as not being used particularly prominently among German youth.

Your Wordability author in Smombie mode
Your Wordability author in Smombie mode

Its sudden UK fame is tied into a Sunday Times feature a few days ago, using the German victory as a springboard to describe the increasing amount of smombie activity around the country. It  illustrated this with quotes from motoring organisations about the dangers this poses which are similar to driving while texting, and even mentioned that there are now ‘Smombie Lanes’ in some cities to allow texters to amble in peace without distracting those seeking a quicker route to their destination.

I think this word is interesting on a number of levels. The first is who uses the word and who it is aimed at. It is quite right that Smombie is pejorative. It accurately describes the way that people walking and using their phones are utterly unaware of everything around them, but it is true that this surely makes it coined by those who look down on such behaviour, not those to whom technology is as innate as breathing, the younger generation. So if it is to gain any currency, it is likely that it will be as a term of criticism.

I also wonder whether Smombie itself is the word that will ultimately catch on. Phubbing, one of my perennial favourites of recent years, is a great amalgam of Phone and Snubbing and does the job beautifully of describing that anti-social act of looking at your phone rather than joining in with the people who you are actually with. But in some ways, it is not immediately apparently what it means, it is only when you say that it is short for phone snubbing that it truly hits its mark.

Great as Smombie sounds, I feel the same way about this word, and that it needs the explanation to give it its context. And that may be the key to its future. Smartphone Zombie is actually perfect, it completely gets its meaning across and you could genuinely see people using it. I think this is a case where the abbreviation could ultimately lose out to the long from.

Smartphone zombies are undoubtedly here to stay. I think the only issue left is how we will continue to refer to them. And making sure we get out of their way, of course.

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Internet Has Fun at Brazil’s Expense

While Brazilians have been licking their wounds at their extraordinary thrashing at the hands of Germany in the World Cup, the internet has been awash with jokes at the unfortunate hosts’ expense.

There are a number of aspects of language change and communication that are demonstrated by the memes which have spread across the globe in the 24 hours since the match. The first is that the word meme is now firmly established as the term to describe creations of any sort, picture, video, joke, which are spread quickly around the world via social media and other technological means. I think this is a word that is still not properly understood by most people, but its jump from being a word for those in the know to the wider mainstream will have been helped by the enormous coverage the Brazilian memes have enjoyed since the final whistle.

Related to this is the idea that the nature of language itself is being changed by memes such as this. People want to say something about the game, they want to be part of the discussion and join in the fun. Now, rather than having to use words to formulate an idea, they create a picture or video as a way of making their point and then distribute it to spread that joke wider. And then others, who also want to join the conversation and say something about what has happened, simply pick their favourite meme and send it to their friends, in effect making a comment themselves. The tone of what they want to say is encapsulated by the meme they choose to share. So people are talking to each other by sharing jokes, rather than by using words. It is a key part of linguistic evolution and actually demonstrates a lingua franca that exists outside any spoken language which is currently active.

Finally new words will emerge as a result of this game, and the first is Mineirazo, named after the Estadio Mineirao where the game was played. This follows the word Maracanazo, coined after Brazil lost to Uruguay in the World Cup in 1950 in the Maracano Stadium. The new result is already being referred to in the media as the Mineirazo, and so this word will remain as the linguistic touchstone against which all future Brazilian performances, and possibly disasters, will be measured.