A Load of Old W***?

There’s always a good language story to be had from Sweden. Keen to stress increasing sexual liberation across the country, a campaign has been launched to find a new word for something which currently doesn’t have its own term. The search is on for a word for female masturbation.

The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education launched a national search for a new word, and more than 1,000 suggestions poured in from the public. The list has now been narrowed down to 34 and next June the panel will decide whether ‘pulla’, ‘selfa’ or something else will emerge victorious.

Kristina Ljungros of the association said: “The absence of one commonly used word for female masturbation suggests that we still don’t have gender equality here in Sweden. Hopefully this is another step towards that.”

By this argument, the same could be said of England. An identical exercise could easily be carried out for this language, as it seems to be equally lacking linguistically in this respect.  A recent Huffington Post piece helpfully suggested flicking the bean, or air out of the orchid, which I think just confiirms that English is as backwards as Swedish when it comes to this linguistic oversight.

So can you see a campaign being launched in the UK to come up with a suitable term? No, me neither. I guess, like so many other aspects of our modern lives, well have to wait for the Swedes to lead the way. Let’s just hope they don’t let IKEA have the final say-so. Billy Bookcase anyone?

How To Ungoogle The Dictionary

We all know that Google’s influence on our everyday lives is huge, and Wordability has written in the past about how it affects language. But rather than allowing that influence to just exist naturally, the technology giant has now taken action to directly influence a dictionary definition. The result has been that lexicography has shot into public consciousness around the world.

Google’s beef is with the Language Council of Sweden, which included the word “ogooglebar” or “ungoogleable” in its list of top words of 2012. The definition given was ‘something which cannot be found with a search engine’. However, Google objected, saying that the definition should only refer to being unable to find something when using Google, rather than any generic search engine.

Not wishing to be dictated to, or to enter into lengthy legal proceedings, the Language Council removed the word completely, while launching a robust defence of the word and criticising Google for their stance.

Sweden seems to be a hotbed of language innovation, and those who look after the language there need to be applauded for their reaction to this. Of course Google cannot dictate what should or shouldn’t be in a dictionary. Frankly they should be flattered that their company name has entered the hallowed turf trodden by Hoover or Portakabin, trade names which have crossed the divide from a single brand to become the generic term for anything in that genre. When the brand becomes the definitive word, surely it is a sign for those behind the brand that the battle is won.

Anybody using ungoogleable, or indeed Google as a verb, is using it in a generic form. Yes, most of us actually use Google itself when performing a web search, but I doubt we are thinking about that fact if we use the word, we are using it to mean search the internet. I was surprised to see that official definitions of “to Google” mention Google in them, rather than the generic act. Presumably others have been wary of the Google trademark police.

But I think the most telling thing of all is a quote given by Google to the BBC. A spokesman said: “While Google, like many businesses, takes routine steps to protect our trademark, we are pleased that users connect the Google name with great search results.” And maybe that is the point. Maybe the company is actually quite pleased when Google is used to mean generic searching, but steps in when any negative definition comes along. But the incident has not served at all to link the company with great search results in people’s minds. In fact, it simply reinforces the view that Google controls everything we do. And is now seeking to influence the meaning of words. Which, of course, it can’t.

Messi Scores A Dictionary Entry

Let me get one thing straight. I love football. And, quite obviously, I also love words. So you’d think then when the two come together, it would create perfect harmony for me. But instead, I think I am witnessing a bit of a language own goal.

It is becoming trendy to celebrate the world’s greatest footballers by creating a word around their unique ability, and then sticking it in a relevant dictionary. Take the world’s greatest player, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. The Spanish Santillana dictionary has now added to its pages the adjective ’Inmessionante’, defined as ‘ The perfect way to play football, an unlimited ability to self-improve.’

Last year, Swedish lexicographers celebrated their own footballing hero, Zlatan Ibrahomivic, with the verb Zlatanera, ‘to dominate on and off the field’.

So are we now stuck with this? Will every sporting nation start to celebrate their finest footballer with a word saying, basically, that they’re great? Will the stars’ names simply become lexically interchangeable according to which dictionary you are looking at?

You have to hope not. Or if this is simply to disappear as the publicity gimmick it seems to be, then maybe we should suggest some slightly more entertaining definitions that should be included:

“To play brilliantly before assaulting a member of the opposition team in a vital match” – To Zidane;

“To leer at the camera after scoring a vital goal in a way that suggests you have taken in more than a half-time orange” – To Maradona;

“To play quite well in a tournament before losing on penalties” – To England.

The fact is, this could run and run. Let’s hope it doesn’t.