A New World For Columbus

We all know that Christopher Columbus discovered America. Actually, we know he discovered it on behalf of the western world, because the country was already inhabited when he arrived.

This nuance over the meaning of ‘discovered’ has seen a new word created in the last few days. A sketch on the College Humor website pokes fun at the idea of white people stumbling across things known to others for many years and then claiming ownership and therefore discovery of them. In honour of the fabled Christopher, this practice is known as ‘Columbusing’.

Columnists have already had lots of fun with this idea, with Miley Cyrus and Twerking featuring prominently in the commentaries of many as she is associated in the minds of lots of people as having discovered twerking, when it had in fact been around for some time.

I think it’s an interesting word as it is a really neat way of encapsulating a quite complex concept, which has both political and social overtones. Whether it has any life beyond this week’s flurry of media activity remains to be seen, but I can see it hanging around as a satirical term online, even if it never makes it into mainstream conversations and dictionaries.

Interestingly, a similar meaning of Columbusing appears to have been submitted to the Urban Dictionary over a year ago. So have the writers at College Humor Columbused Columbusing?

Twerking Has Not Killed English

Oxford Dictionaries Online had a major PR success recently, when its quarterly update included the word Twerk, just as Miley Cyrus was hitting international headlines for performing the provocative dance move at the MTV Awards.

Twerking, for those of you who have been hiding under a duvet for the last month to avoid it, is officially defined as “to dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.”

Of course, there were those who bemoaned this development as the death of the English language, or others who criticised lexicographers for responding to the news reports by adding the word in. Then there were those who don’t know the difference between Oxford Dictionaries Online and The Oxford English Dictionary, and proclaimed that Twerk had made it to the OED’s hallowed pages. Which it hasn’t. Not yet, anyway.

Now that the twerking dust has settled I feel it my duty to acknowledge this furore, and also to note that while Twerking has been around for 20 years, 2013 is the year of its populist birth, the year that it really came into public consciousness. It’s a bit like Fracking in that respect, an old word for an established technique for extracting fuel that has emerged front and centre in 2013.

Undoubtedly Twerking will feature as one of the words of this year, when such lists come to be compiled, but it certainly shouldn’t be winning any garlands. This is not the year of its birth, merely the year of its recognition, and while it has undoubtedly played a big part in 2013, other terms have been more prominent and will prove to be more deserving.

And as for the accusation that Oxford Dictionaries jumped into Twerking for its update because of the news agenda, think again. It takes much longer than a couple of days for a new word to be added, and the coincidence of the Cyrus dance and the Oxford announcement was nothing more than that – coincidence. And if you don’t believe me, Fiona McPherson, Senior Editor, Oxford Dictionaries, confirmed this to Wordability. And here’s the video to prove it: