Games Lanes Power The Olympic Family

It was always obvious that we would use various new words and phrases as a result of the Olympics. But in the early few days, organisers must have been hoping that the words would be of a sporting nature.

Sadly not. Instead, we were introduced to the phrase Games Lanes, as parts of London became paralysed by the closing down of main arteries across the UK’s capital. And who gets to ride in the Games Lanes? Members of the Olympic Family.

The phrase Olympic Family, a kind of catch-all which seems to encompass anybody with any tangential connection to the Games, has become negative because of its association with empty seats in stadiums, with large areas dedicated to this mystical family sitting unused. It is not currently a family that people are keen to put on their Christmas list.

Now it’s all down to the competitors. Hopefully their feats will prove so stirring that when we look back over the words which defined the Games, external controversies will not be on the podium.

To Gold or Not To Gold

I heard the same interview on two different BBC radio stations yesterday, and it elicited the same response from two different presenters.

Talking about medal prospects for the upcoming Olympics, British Olympic Association chairman Colin Moynihan said that Australia would expect “to gold” in certain events.

Given that I have already been hearing people experiencing paroxysms of rage at “to medal”, which is making its quadrennial reappearance into the lexicon to coincide with the Games, you can only imagine the incredulity with which “to gold” was treated.

It could have just been a one-off – I can find no evidence of this usage anywhere else at the moment. But it could equally be that athletes will be “golding”, “silvering” and “bronzing” come the end of July. And if that does prove to be the case, remember where you read about it first.

Mother Flame Powers The Torch Relay

I must admit that I have been sceptical about the level of interest in the Olympic Torch relay, now winding its way across the UK ahead of July’s Games. This cynicism has not been directed at the relay itself, which has always struck me as an excellent prelude to the main event, with understandable local enthusiasm when the torch is finally in your vicinity.

No, I have been convinced that the BBC’s dedicated live coverage page, featuring a permanent stream of people running with the torch, together with text commentary, would struggle to find an audience because of the sheer monotony of the event to all but those in any given area on any given day. But with hundreds of thousands of people seemingly becoming addicted to the coverage, it seems I was wrong. Ah well.

So why Wordability’s interest. Well the Torch Relay has already started to contribute some fresh terms to the English language. The best of them came when the torch went out on Day Three. This was the point at which we found out that the fire being carried as a back-up in case the flame goes out is known as the ‘Mother Flame’.

I love this term, complete with its connotations of space ships and aliens. Actually, the rules governing relighting the flame are interesting, as the original flame from Greece has to be kept burning at all times, with relighting coming straight from this source, the aforementioned Mother. Bear in mind, Mother Flame flew all the way from Greece in a specially chartered plane. One hopes she was treated to first class.

It’s also important to remember that the relay is about the fire, and not the actual torches. Each torch bearer has their own torch, lit by its predecessor in a delicate operation known as a ‘Torch Kiss’. To cover longer distances during its daily journeys, the torch travels in a van and is not visible to the public. This is known as ‘Convoy Mode’. It’s where the BBC’s coverage becomes less interesting and is basically just live footage of a drive down the A30. Of course, the BBC itself is responsible for the term ‘Torchcam’, the camera which broadcasts all the live footage, together with its associated Twitter hashtag #bbctorchcam.

There have already been moments in the coverage where a new word has not yet emerged. Controversy has erupted over the decision by some torch bearers to sell their torches on eBay. What do we call such people – ‘Torch-Bayers’? ‘Flame Throwers’? And there is criticism over the celebrity status of some of the torch bearers and accusations of publicity seeking over some of the choices. I think the idea of asking Didier Drogba to take the torch through Swindon was particularly bizarre. ‘The Rich and Flamous’ perhaps?

As the Torch Relay powers on, it seems that interest in it will only increase, leading up to July and the start of the Olympics. It will be fascinating to see what the Olympics’ linguistic legacy turns out to be.