The Baggy Green Guide To Bikers

The media coverage of the latest Oxford Dictionary online update has reversed the usual trend. Newly-added words tend to dominate the headlines. But on this occasion, it is a redefinition that has captured people’s attention.

Previously, biker has been defined as: ‘A motorcyclist, especially one who is a member  of a gang: a long-haired biker in dirty denims’. However, OED lexicographers have bowed to pressure from the biking community and removed the reference to grubbiness, with the new definition emerging as ‘A motorcyclist, especially one who is a member of a gang or group: a biker was involved in a collision with a car.’

While bikers are understood to be pleased with the decision, they may now have to deal with the fact that their mucky tendencies have been replaced in the definition by a slight on their safety record. I look forward to a future definition with the example ‘A clean-cut respectable-looking biker rode along the street and nothing of note happened at all’.

Mind you, if the OED wants to think about redefinitions, maybe it should start to ponder the meaning of the word ‘new’. After all, these quarterly updates always trumpet the new words being given status and inevitably, many of them are not that new, and I end up venting my anger about archaic words being celebrated for their novelty.

But I do feel that this quarter’s update has hit a new temporal low. As a cricket fan, I know that Baggy Green has become popularised in the last 20 years. But Australian cricketers have been donning them since time immemorial once they make the national team, so to acknowledge it now seems bizarre.

Even more bizarre is the arrival of Torch Relay and Olympic Flame. I know these really hit public consciousness during the London Olympics in 2012, but there were genuine new words associated with the torch relay such as Mother Flame, rather than terms, and indeed an event, that have been around for decades.

Or to use another apparently new word, I think this update is a bit of a mare.

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.