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 Top Words of 2012

And so the time has come for Wordability to reveal its word of the year. But I’m not quite going to do that. Because I don’t think that one word does justice to 2012. So in total, Wordability has five words of the year. And a new book – but more of that anon.

The danger of picking one word is that it only tells some of the story. The Oxford Dictionary choice of Omnishambles absolutely gives us a word that says a great deal about 2012. But what about the Olympics, and that incredible feeling that careered across Britain throughout that glorious summer. To ignore that is to miss a part of the year.

And should we go with a new word or something old which has resurfaced? Wordability has shown over the year that brand new words and redefinitions of existing words are equally important when it comes to semantic change in the English language. So I think it is important to include both.

So without further faffing, here are my top five words of the year:

New Words of the Year

Mother Flame: The journey of the Olympic Flame started the Olympics for real for most people in the UK, and the crowds who lined the streets throughout the country to see it were surprisingly large and enthusiastic. The whole process spawned a raft of new words associated with the procession.  Mother Flame, the original flame travelling with the torch and used to relight it when it went out, was my favourite.

Eastwooding: An odd choice? Yes. Eastwooding as a word was never destined to last more than five minutes. And yet what a five minutes. Spawned by Clint Eastwood’s extraordinary empty chair conversation with Barack Obama at the Republican Convention, Eastwooding became a social phenomenon as people raced to share photographs of themselves interacting with unoccupied items of furniture. I have chosen it as a word of the year because in many ways it is the quintessential demonstration of how a new word can arrive and thrive in our interconnected world. And then, just as quickly, fall off a cliff.

Gangnam Style: The music sensation of the year and a phrase that has entered the language. You only have to hear of anybody dancing Gangnam Style to know what kind of performance they are putting in, and plenty of famous people have been queuing up for their five minutes of strutting their horse-like stuff.

 Re-emergence of the Year

There were two contenders for this. Omnishambles, as we know, curried favour elsewhere. But I have plumped for Ineptocracy, a term for a form of government in which those utterly incapable seem to grab the top jobs. Like Omnishambles, it sums up the slightly random state of Government which seems to prevail in many countries this year, and the attitude towards them from the people. And from a Wordability point of view, Ineptocracy is the most viewed article and most searched for term across the blog in 2012, so it is clearly a word demanding of attention.

Redefinition of the Year

No dispute about this one – the furore over Misogyny in Australia takes this award. The global argument this led to about what the true definition of the word is, and whether Australian lexicographers were right to amend their definition, really encapsulates what semantic shifts tell us about changes in society.

So these are my top five, but so many other words have caught my attention – Goalgasm, Lesula, Papple, Marmageddon, Swapportunity to name just a few of my favourites – that even a list like this does not do it justice.

So I have produced a book of the words of the year, which is available right now from the Kindle Store on Amazon, just by clicking here. In it you will find more on all these words, and a great deal more. It’s a portrait of not only the language change of the year but a picture of what has really mattered to us as a society over the last 12 months.

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.

Is Ineptocracy the Future of Government?

Writing in the Guardian this week, sketch writer Simon Hoggart claimed that Labour MP Paul Flynn had invented a new word. He wrote: “11.55: Paul Flynn coins new word for what the coalition has created: “An ineptocracy of greed.” Won’t catch on.”

Unfortunately for Mr Hoggart, he was wrong on two counts. Firstly, Mr Flynn didn’t coin the word. And secondly, it already has.

Ineptocracy has been around very fleetingly for at least 10 years, but seems to have picked up a head of steam towards the end of 2011 and is now starting to increase in usage both in blogs and on Twitter.

It is not yet in any official dictionaries but is being defined by users as “A system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.” Other, simpler definitions, suggest it is simply a ruling government which is incompetent.

It is certainly gaining traction in the United States, and Googling “ineptocracy obama” yields quite a number of results, suggesting that opponents are beginning to fix on the word as a way of encapsulating their negativity towards his presidency.

Mr Flynn is possibly the first person to be using the word in the UK, and always in relation to the Coalition. As well as his mention this week, he also write a blog last October called Building the Ineptocracy, but it seems he was responding to the growing usage of it from across the Atlantic and wanted to see if he could tie the current UK Government into it.

So will ineptocracy stick? There are factors against that. On a prosaic level, it is difficult to say and even to spell. I find I keep stopping to think about it as I type this piece. The fact that it doesn’t easily trip off tongue or keyboard may limit its growth. It may also be limited because it sounds quite specialised and a word owned by political writers and experts.

But I can see it growing as a shorthand way for bloggers and commentators to describe what they see as failed governments, so I can see ineptocracy gaining some official dictionary recognition later this year. And if a campaigning politician should pick up on it and throw it into a speech, then that validation will be very rapid indeed.