Laugh Out Loud at David Cameron

It says much about the British public that despite Rebekah Brooks’ hours of evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, one trivial detail is likely to be the major thing her appearance is remembered for.

That triviality is the revelation that Prime Minister David Cameron sent her a number of texts, many of which were finished LOL under the mistaken assumption that it meant Lots of Love.

From a Wordability point of view, it is a fascinating insight into how new words face a rocky road to general usage. LOL, the Laugh Out Loud acronym applied to many online utterances, gained full acceptance in 2011 when it was accepted as a word by the Oxford English Dictionary.

The Cameron error highlights the fact that many people can be aware of a new word and know that uttering it confers some kind of hipness on the user. But their inability to use it properly shows not only that they are not hip, but also emphasises that they are trying and failing in their attempts at coolness.

I personally never use LOL, and am happy to admit that for a long time, I didn’t actually know what the letters stood for. But that was irrelevant, because I knew what it actually meant because I had seen it used in context. Being exposed to its correct usage would make it impossible for anyone to misuse it. The Prime Minister’s mistake suggests he has no friends on Facebook.

Of course, the other thing about the revelation is that you are left wondering just how long Ms Brooks allowed Mr Cameron to act like a linguistic pillock before she finally told him the truth. And given the reaction that the news has got, he may now be searching for some new acronyms with which to finish any future texts to his famous friend.

Why Horsegate Should Ride Away

It must be obvious by now just how much I admire the English language and its regular diet of new words. But even I have my limits.

So what has promoted my ire? It’s very simple. It’s Horsegate. It’s the ‘scandal’ over the retired police horse cared for by Rebekah Brooks and subsequently ridden by David Cameron. The whole equine fiasco has been dubbed ‘horsegate’ by the media and the social media world.

And I hate it! Not the story, which is of course fascinating, amusing and worrying in almost equal measures. No, I hate the way that every vaguely salacious or scandalous story which hits the news and lasts for longer than about 20 minutes automatically receives a ‘-gate’ at the end of it as a word by which it will be referred to for evermore.

It’s lazy. It’s cliched. But above all, it offends my linguistic sensibilities. It is derived, of course, from the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. This has led to the belief that you can borrow the gate from the building where it took place and simply append it to anything. And it’s plain wrong. There is nothing inherent in the word ‘gate’ that means anything to do with scandal. Imagine if the Nixon scandal had centred around the Waterfish building, we’d all be discussing the horsefish story now.

Now I know what you’re thinking. I have continually espoused a theory of language growing and evolving, of words taking on new meanings, and if gate has grown to be imbued with scandal-related meaning when used as a suffix, surely I should applaud that, that is what language does. But on this occasion, I am going to stick to my guns. I think it is ugly and unnecessary. A glance down Wikipedia’s list of ‘gate’ usages convinces me I am right, so ludicrous are many of the entries. I think Fajitagate and Toiletgate are possibly the pick of an appalling bunch.

I love the ever-changing nature of English. But this constant neologism is almost scandalous. It’s just that you’ll never hear me refer to it as languagegate.