Sexting Given French Twist

It’s been an interesting year for sex in France. Linguistically, at any rate. Earlier this year, the word Galocher for French Kiss finally made it into the Petit Robert dictionary. And now another saucy term has found itself in the headlines.

As part of its efforts to keep the French language pure, English terms are frowned on, and L’Académie Française, France’s official language authority, has now published a list of the French alternatives to Anglicised expressions with are creeping into the language.

The proposed variant to Sexting has garnered most attention, with Textopornographie put forward as the new word in the official government list. I don’t know about you, but I know which one sounds more lurid and has a certain je ne sais pas.

There are some other interesting terms in the list, such as Vidéoagression for Happy Slapping, which again sounds more ominous than its English equivalent, or Surtransposition for Gold Plating.

As English-inspired technology drives word evolution, there will be more of this. Earlier this year Wordability reported on the replacing of Hashtag with Mot-Dièse, and as this latest story shows, this trend will only continue. Or as the French will come to say, That’s Life.

New Words Which are not Ridic

The tail end of summer is always a fertile time for lovers of new words. ‘Tis the season of dictionary updates, and as each publisher puts out their own list of additions, so column inches and discussions ensue about their relative merits as English vocabulary enjoys a brief moment in the media spotlight.

Now, as Wordability prepares to enter its second year (a year already, amazing!), I have decided to buck my usual trend and not bemoan the length of time it takes for established words to gain acceptance. And it would be easy. After all, OED online has finally recognised Tweeps, a person’s Twitter followers, a word which while recent has certainly gained enough credibility over the last couple of years to have deserved official recognition before now. Meanwhile in the States, Merriam-Webster has included sexting and gastropub for the first time, words that have been around for some time.

No, what has bothered me about this particular round of coverage is the reaction of some commentators and in discussion pages about some of the words which have been included. The OED’s acceptance of Ridic and Mwahahaha, Chambers adding Glamping and Defriend to a section of its thesaurus – words such as these have seen the language pedants roll up their sleeves and go to work.

The curmudgeons argue that such words defile the English language, that its purity and beauty is somehow soiled by these trendy new terms as they gain usage and then acceptance. And of course, everybody who gives this opinion completely misses the point.

Because English is not a static museum piece, it is not a thing put into a book to be learnt as it is. No, it is a beautifully evolving stream, which is allowed to constantly change and grow to truly reflect how its speakers use it. Its incredible flexibility is one of the principal reasons behind its success as a global tongue, and not acknowledging this is simply not getting it. It is vital for dictionary makers to add new words as they become popular and embedded, and not listen to the luddites who would still speak like Shakespeare.

And people may want to view the situation in China, where natural evolution of the language is not allowed. Commonly used English words and phrases have now been included in the latest edition of the Modern Chinese Dictionary, and scholars have argued that Chinese law itself has been broken by the move.

Pedants in the English-speaking world may think they want a language which doesn’t change, and may believe they want dictionary makers to ignore the language that is actually spoken. But it is vital that lexicographers continue to reflect the language as it truly is, and that we all celebrate the fact that we live somewhere where they are allowed to do that.

The Unspeakable Awards: What is the Worst New Tech Word?

Technology is a rich source of new words, as Wordability has mentioned on more than one occasion. But it’s probably fair to say there are good technology words and bad technology words fighting for their place in the lexicon.

To mark their ever widening influence, Computeractive magazine has revealed the winner of its first “Unspeakable” award. The dubious distinction is bestowed upon the “most annoying or horrible” new word to enter dictionaries in the last 12 months, with the results decided by an online YouGov survey of 2,054 people.

Before I tell you the winner, I will say that I don’t think it is one I would have voted for. If pressed for a view, I find all the twee twitter words the most aggravating, governed as they are by the contention that you can put tw- at the front of anything and make it intelligible. I think that’s a load of old twosh.

Twitter words make three entries: Twittersphere, which means means the Twitter world at large and is ironically the only Twitter word I actually like; Tweetup, which is a meeting organised on Twitter and is much more representative of the kind of ghastly effect that the micro-blogging site has had on language; and Twitpic, which is a picture on Twitter and has ‘Twit’ front and centre, which seems about right.

But let’s hail the winner, which picked up 24% of the vote. The first recipient of the “Unspeakable” award is Sexting. Its victory probably owes much to popular news over the last 12 months. After all, there has never been such an era for the sending of explicit imagery via mobile phones in the whole of human history.

Paul Allen, the editor of Computeractive, believes in plain English, and his publication prides itself on its jargon-free advice. He worries that Techlish, a technlogy-laded version of English, is about to swamp our everyday language unless we are careful about it.

Wordability spoke to Mr Allen about the survey. He agreed the growth of technology inevitably meant a sprouting of new words, and added: “A lot have become very useful, they define a shift in human behaviour, such as Google as a verb.”

But he added: “People in marketing have spotted how these new words have become ways of getting coverage so they keep inventing them. Sexting is plain silly, a tabloid dream come true.”

Mr Allen also said that tech words have a way of bestowing a sense of exclusivity on the people who use them. “You may make other people feel a bit silly. It’s not intentional, but they can be exclusive words which are not inviting people in.”

Here’s the top 10. Take a look, and let me know what you think. Why don’t you leave a comment on what you think should also have been in the list:

1. Sexting: The sending of sexually explicit photographs or messages by mobile phone

2. Intexticated: Unable to concentrate while driving because of being distracted by texting.

3. Defriend: To remove someone from one’s list of friends on a social networking site.

4. Twittersphere: The collective noun for all postings/Tweets on Twitter.

5. Tweetup: A meeting or get-together that has been organized via Tweets on Twitter.

6. Hacktivist: Someone who hacks into computer data as a form of activism.

7. Clickjacking: Maliciously manipulating a web-user’s action by concealed hyperlinks.

8.= Twitpic: A picture posted as a Tweet on Twitter.

8.= Scareware: A malicious programme designed to trick users into buying unnecessary software such as fake antivirus protection.

8.= Dot-bomb: An Internet venture (dotcom) that has failed and/or gone bankrupt.