Romnesia: The Key Word of 2012 Campaign?

Regular readers of Wordability will know just how much I love Mitt Romney. And no, that is not a political statement at all, merely an acknowledgement of how many times linguistic issues seem to have followed him around during this lengthy election campaign.

But does the campaign finally have the new word that will prove decisive? I wrote at the start of the year about how individual words have the power to win elections, with Change helping to lead Barack Obama to glory four years ago.

So far in 2012, no word has quite emerged as decisive. Mr Romney has tried, but Obamaloney was poor. Instead, he has constantly found himself at the mercy of linguistic disasters not of his own making, while phrases like 47% and Binders Full of Women have dogged him.

And now, it looks like the President has cracked it. In a speech in Virginia, Mr Obama characterised his opponent’s ability to change his mind and position on key issues as ‘Romnesia’.

And it worked. The crowd loved it. More importantly, the Twitter crowd loved it. It trended madly on the network immediately, and has quickly established itself as a hashtag to be appended to anything even vaguely anti-Republican.

It’s a great neologism. It makes you think of Romney. It makes you think of forgetting. And it encapsulates the character flaw that Mr Obama wants to draw attention to. It could do for this election what flip-flop did for George Bush against John Kerry by becoming the word which crystallises the campaign and leads to eventual victory.

Have I overstated this? It’s hard to say. In the minds of the undecided voters, one new word can stick. And finding that key new word which is never forgotten could ultimately make the difference.

Eastwooding Makes My Linguistic Day

It would have been easy to assume that when Clint Eastwood was lined up to speak at the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney might have been sitting back and looking forward to to the positive publicity glow which the grizzled actor’s words would bathe him in.

Alas, no. This is Mitt Romney we are talking about, Wordability’s unlikely folk hero, and a man dogged by linguistic disaster wherever he treads.

And so it is with Clint. His ringing endorsement is being remembered not for the positive words he spoke about Mr Romney, but about the bizarre scene he acted out when he accosted an invisible Barack Obama, who was represented by an empty chair. And so, Eastwooding was born.

As Tebowing before it, so images are swamping the internet of people pointing at, basically, empty chairs. They are Eastwooding. The word is sweeping across the globe, and is rapidly gaining in usage.

Will it last beyond the week? Unlikely, and if it does, only until election time in a couple of months. Is it the word for which Clint would want to be remembered? Definitely not. And as for Mr Romney? He will be hoping that come debate time, Mr Obama remembers to turn up. He wouldn’t want to be Eastwooding live on national television.

Is Romney Hood A Case of Obamaloney?

I think Mitt Romney has been reading Wordability. The Republican candidate for the US Presidency has featured on these cyber pages a disproportionate amount of times in the last few weeks, so has clearly decided that if I am going to write about him, he had better actively coin a new word rather than have one made for him.

And so is born Obamaloney. Now non-Wordability fans will conclude that Mr Romney is looking for a word with which to attack the president, and feels that this neologism sums up the idea that Mr Obama’s attacks on him are full of nonsense, or baloney, to borrow the vernacular.

Others might contend that he came up with the word to counter Romney Hood, the Obama language attack which seeks to characterise his tax plans as stealing from the poor to benefit the rich.

But of course, they would be wrong. Mr Romney was keen for some positive coverage on Wordablity, and so he got into the world of coining new words in order to curry favour with me.

The problem? The word has to be good. It has to trip off the tongue. It has to be obvious what it means. And does Obamaloney succeed in any of this? Er, no.

Another fine Romneyshambles then.

Another Fine Shambles For Romney

Mitt Romney is rapidly emerging as Wordability’s most unlikely hero. Who knew! He has already charmed us with his caring attitude towards his dog, and delighted us by not knowing the name of the country he is trying to lead.

Now, as he winds his gaffe-strewn way across the globe, to ensure that everyone knows exactly who he is before November’s election, he might be wishing he had stayed at home. His questioning of London’s readiness and enthusiasm for the Olympics, followed by increasingly desperate attempts to limit the damage, rapidly saw his trip labelled a Romneyshambles.

It’s wonderful to see a clever neologism like this making some headway, building as it does on Omnishambles’ re-emergence into public consciousness earlier this year. In a single word, the would-be president’s efforts are distilled, summed up and spat out, and it satisfies every opponent’s desire for a linguistic stick with which they can beat him.

Mr Romney must have thought his surname made him pun-proof. Who knew!


It’s not quite true to say that BFD is a TNA, but many have been saying it’s the new LOL.

BFD as an abbreviation meaning ‘Big F***cking Deal’ (language cleaned up because I know my mother reads this blog) is not new. But it has recently emerged into political discussion in America, thence onto Twitter and is now being touted by linguists as the next big things in abbreviations.

Of course, I’m not actually sure there is a next big thing in abbreviations. Linguistics isn’t showbiz, sadly. It would be nice to imagine that the abbreviation police are trawling the internet and that as soon as they come across this blog and TNA (Trendy New Abbreviation), the metaphorical trumpets will come out and it will start to adorn all short-form communication within minutes.

BFD T-shirtBut I digress, badly. Two years ago, US Vice President Joe Biden said that Barack Obama’s healthcare bill was not just a big deal, it was a “big f***ing deal” (hopefully my mother is still reading, you see). And with the bill recently being upheld by the Supreme Court, the Obama administration has taken to selling suitably emblazoned BFD T-shirts, (for a BFP, incidentally). The Romney campaign has criticised the behaviour as unpresidential, and the Twittersphere has gone crazy with BFD-related postings.

So the debate has been about whether BFD will become as well established as its elder statesmen, with LOL cited as as the one to beat, which begs the question of what David Cameron might believe BFD stands for. The article hyperlinked above says that the jury is still out, and quotes linguist Allan Metcalf and his scale to decide whether the word will last. The scale awards marks of 0, 1 or 2 for each of five categories:  frequency of use, unobtrusiveness, diversity of users, ability to generate related neologisms, and endurance of the concept it describes. Mr Metcalf gives BFD a paltry three points in total, suggesting it is au revoir to BFD.

I’m not so sure. I think the process of new word acceptance is beginning to change, thanks entirely to the internet. The article mentioned above says this process has not changed for a number of years, and that it takes time for a new word to bed in and get established. But with the power of global communication, and the velocity with which things become cemented on Twitter and other social media, new words and ideas now become part of the fabric of society substantially quicker. The abbreviations we now take for granted are all children of the texting age, a period that is no time at all in the entire history of human language.

It would not surprise me at all if the current popularity of BFD is a long-running thing, and it becomes just as established as all the others. And then we’ll just be saying that the debate was a BFD over nothing.

Is Amercia the Key to American Victory?

The power of single words can be the difference between election victory and defeat in the United States. At the start of election year, Wordability considered which words would emerge as the key ones during 2012. But nobody could have predicted that word may prove to be a typo.

But so it is for confirmed Republican candidate Mitt Romney. To celebrate his nomination, his campaign team released their ‘With Mitt’ iPhone app, a chance to append one of 14 pre-written slogans to a picture and then use social media to share the picture and spread the message.

Well the team behind it got one thing right – the power of social media to spread ideas is unsurpassed. The problem comes when the thing that you are spreading is a cock-up. Or in this case, the inability of a campaign team to correctly spell the name of the country their man is trying to govern. Because one of the slogans promised ‘A Better Amercia’.

The hasty re-release of the app, and the assurances by the team that it was one of those things, completely misses the point. The internet had already seized on the gaffe, Twitter went #amercia crazy, blogs were set up in its name as Amercia jokes mushroomed across our interconnected globe. All of which serves to not only confirm the power of social media to get a message across but reinforced Wordability’s contention that individual words have the power to shape a debate and a campaign.

It may well be that this is just a passing story which will be forgotten by next week. But there is a chance it may not, and that instead, the single word Amercia will be drip fed out by opponents, commentators and satirists as the perfect reference point if they want to attack Mr Romney. It could easily become the word that defines the campaign because it will call up so many associations, ideas and sly giggles simply by being dropped into conversation. Just saying that one word will prove to be enough to make a point.

It has already proved to be more lasting in people’s minds than any official slogans. Barack Obama is using the single word Forward as his campaign slogan for 2012, but it seems not to have resonated at all, and certainly not in the way that simply saying ‘Change’ four years ago was enough to turn his supporters into a quivering mass.

The most delicious irony of all in the Romney affair is that it occurred in the same week that America’s latest spelling bee champion was crowned. Fourteen-year-old Snigdha Nandipati triumphed by successfully spelling ‘guetapens,’ a French-derived word that means ambush, snare or trap. Mr Romney will be hoping that his app mishap will not prove to be the linguistic guetapens which keeps him out of the White House.

Mitt Romney and the Dirty Side of Politics

Remember Rick Santorum? He’s the Presidential candidate in the United States whose name was redefined by gay rights campaigners because of homophobic remarks he had made in the past.

Well Rick’s not the only one now. Front-runner Mitt Romney is now finding himself in a similar situation, as Google searches for his name start to show the same pattern. The Spreading Romney website is not yet topping all searches for Mr Romney’s name, but its presence could prove something of an embarrassment.

It seems that in 1983, Mr Romney and his family embarked on a 12-hour journey to Canada with their dog strapped to the roof in a special travel box. After a few hours, the Romneys discovered that the poor dog had suffered an uncontrolled bowel movement. The would-be president got out of the car, hosed the dog down, and then left it on the roof for the remainder of the journey.

Hence the new definition of Romney – “to defecate in terror”.

The site was created by 28-year-old Jack Shepler from Indianapolis, who said he wanted to draw attention to the incident. It seems he is not after a new definition for the dictionary, and it seems unlikely that people who suffer extreme moments of terror allied to stomach cramps will be saying “I was so scared I Romneyed” any time soon.

But the power of associating a name with a single definition does seem to be a growing trend in the political game in the United States, and the more that people coin these definitions and associate the protagonists with distinct ideas, then the more those ideas might stick. There is already a search on for what Newt Gingrich’s name might mean at the Spreading Gingrich website.

Incidentally, the growth of the Spreading Romney website comes as German linguists announce the winner of their Anglicism of the Year award. They felt that the English word that has made the best contribution to the German language over the last 12 months is “Sh*tstorm”, defining it as “a public outcry, primarily on the Internet, in which arguments mix with threats and insults to reach a critical mass, forcing a reaction”.

All over the world, there is a degree of crap driving language change.