Will The Whitelash Last?

One of the strangest things about the tumultuous political events of this year is that the reality of what it will all mean is still to come. 2016 is the year of Trump, the year of Brexit. But in some senses, it isn’t at all. The effects of the Trump presidency will not be fully felt until the start of 2017, the ramifications of Brexit will play out over a number of years. This is the year when the world changed – the next few years will tell us how much.

From a linguistic point of view, it is inevitable that new words and phrases will start to come into our language as the new realities take effect. One that has been around since last year is Trumpism, but interestingly it still feels a little like a word in search of a fully defined meaning. What is clear is that in the short-term, it will be used as the catch-all headline term for all policies and agendas set by the future US President, and a clear understanding of the values it represents will only really become apparent over the next few months.

A clearer word emerged in the immediate aftermath of the election. CNN commentator Van Jones felt that the result could partly be explained by a backlash of white people in the States against a black president, while the other issues of racism present in those working definitions of Trumpism also played their part. He termed the reaction a Whitelash, a word that has quickly caught hold and become of the key buzzwords that commentators the world over have used when describing the result.

It is understandable and tempting for people to hang on to words such as this as they seek to make sense of the week we have just witnessed. The reason this one seems to work is that it gets to the heart of one of the key issues of the election and brings to the fore issues of racism which are disturbing to many of us, making those ideas central to the overall result. I suspect that the term whitelash will be around in political comment for some time to come, especially with a round of volatile elections in Europe just around the corner.

On a lighter note, it was almost inevitable that UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson would try to get in on the act. He has been reusing Gloomadon Poppers with almost monotonous regularity over the last few months, but this week tried for a new entry in the annals of words that nobody will ever use with ‘whinge-o-rama’, saying that the collective whinge-o-rama over the Trump victory had to stop. I wonder if there was a whinge-o-rama in the Johnson household when his bid to become Prime Minister became unstuck? There may well be one when he finds that yet another of his neologisms has disappeared without a trace.

Four years ago, I wrote a number of blog posts about Mitt Romney and his almost insatiable need to mangle the English language at any given opportunity. But this year’s election does not feel like a time to make jokes about the way words are used. I now need to keep track of the words and phrases used by the new administration to see how language is being modfied to exert influence and whether words are being coined or redefined to create danger in both subtle and unsubtle ways. The power of the spoken word and its ability to create great change and danger is now more real than it has been for a long time. The internet allows ideas to spread like wildfire. New words and meanings can take hold almost before we have realised. Rhetoric can have a profound effect that nobody expected. Tracking how these things evolve is now increasingly vital.

Romnesia: The Key Word of 2012 Campaign?

Regular readers of Wordability will know just how much I love Mitt Romney. And no, that is not a political statement at all, merely an acknowledgement of how many times linguistic issues seem to have followed him around during this lengthy election campaign.

But does the campaign finally have the new word that will prove decisive? I wrote at the start of the year about how individual words have the power to win elections, with Change helping to lead Barack Obama to glory four years ago.

So far in 2012, no word has quite emerged as decisive. Mr Romney has tried, but Obamaloney was poor. Instead, he has constantly found himself at the mercy of linguistic disasters not of his own making, while phrases like 47% and Binders Full of Women have dogged him.

And now, it looks like the President has cracked it. In a speech in Virginia, Mr Obama characterised his opponent’s ability to change his mind and position on key issues as ‘Romnesia’.

And it worked. The crowd loved it. More importantly, the Twitter crowd loved it. It trended madly on the network immediately, and has quickly established itself as a hashtag to be appended to anything even vaguely anti-Republican.

It’s a great neologism. It makes you think of Romney. It makes you think of forgetting. And it encapsulates the character flaw that Mr Obama wants to draw attention to. It could do for this election what flip-flop did for George Bush against John Kerry by becoming the word which crystallises the campaign and leads to eventual victory.

Have I overstated this? It’s hard to say. In the minds of the undecided voters, one new word can stick. And finding that key new word which is never forgotten could ultimately make the difference.

Eastwooding Makes My Linguistic Day

It would have been easy to assume that when Clint Eastwood was lined up to speak at the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney might have been sitting back and looking forward to to the positive publicity glow which the grizzled actor’s words would bathe him in.

Alas, no. This is Mitt Romney we are talking about, Wordability’s unlikely folk hero, and a man dogged by linguistic disaster wherever he treads.

And so it is with Clint. His ringing endorsement is being remembered not for the positive words he spoke about Mr Romney, but about the bizarre scene he acted out when he accosted an invisible Barack Obama, who was represented by an empty chair. And so, Eastwooding was born.

As Tebowing before it, so images are swamping the internet of people pointing at, basically, empty chairs. They are Eastwooding. The word is sweeping across the globe, and is rapidly gaining in usage.

Will it last beyond the week? Unlikely, and if it does, only until election time in a couple of months. Is it the word for which Clint would want to be remembered? Definitely not. And as for Mr Romney? He will be hoping that come debate time, Mr Obama remembers to turn up. He wouldn’t want to be Eastwooding live on national television.

Another Fine Shambles For Romney

Mitt Romney is rapidly emerging as Wordability’s most unlikely hero. Who knew! He has already charmed us with his caring attitude towards his dog, and delighted us by not knowing the name of the country he is trying to lead.

Now, as he winds his gaffe-strewn way across the globe, to ensure that everyone knows exactly who he is before November’s election, he might be wishing he had stayed at home. His questioning of London’s readiness and enthusiasm for the Olympics, followed by increasingly desperate attempts to limit the damage, rapidly saw his trip labelled a Romneyshambles.

It’s wonderful to see a clever neologism like this making some headway, building as it does on Omnishambles’ re-emergence into public consciousness earlier this year. In a single word, the would-be president’s efforts are distilled, summed up and spat out, and it satisfies every opponent’s desire for a linguistic stick with which they can beat him.

Mr Romney must have thought his surname made him pun-proof. Who knew!

Is Amercia the Key to American Victory?

The power of single words can be the difference between election victory and defeat in the United States. At the start of election year, Wordability considered which words would emerge as the key ones during 2012. But nobody could have predicted that word may prove to be a typo.

But so it is for confirmed Republican candidate Mitt Romney. To celebrate his nomination, his campaign team released their ‘With Mitt’ iPhone app, a chance to append one of 14 pre-written slogans to a picture and then use social media to share the picture and spread the message.

Well the team behind it got one thing right – the power of social media to spread ideas is unsurpassed. The problem comes when the thing that you are spreading is a cock-up. Or in this case, the inability of a campaign team to correctly spell the name of the country their man is trying to govern. Because one of the slogans promised ‘A Better Amercia’.

The hasty re-release of the app, and the assurances by the team that it was one of those things, completely misses the point. The internet had already seized on the gaffe, Twitter went #amercia crazy, blogs were set up in its name as Amercia jokes mushroomed across our interconnected globe. All of which serves to not only confirm the power of social media to get a message across but reinforced Wordability’s contention that individual words have the power to shape a debate and a campaign.

It may well be that this is just a passing story which will be forgotten by next week. But there is a chance it may not, and that instead, the single word Amercia will be drip fed out by opponents, commentators and satirists as the perfect reference point if they want to attack Mr Romney. It could easily become the word that defines the campaign because it will call up so many associations, ideas and sly giggles simply by being dropped into conversation. Just saying that one word will prove to be enough to make a point.

It has already proved to be more lasting in people’s minds than any official slogans. Barack Obama is using the single word Forward as his campaign slogan for 2012, but it seems not to have resonated at all, and certainly not in the way that simply saying ‘Change’ four years ago was enough to turn his supporters into a quivering mass.

The most delicious irony of all in the Romney affair is that it occurred in the same week that America’s latest spelling bee champion was crowned. Fourteen-year-old Snigdha Nandipati triumphed by successfully spelling ‘guetapens,’ a French-derived word that means ambush, snare or trap. Mr Romney will be hoping that his app mishap will not prove to be the linguistic guetapens which keeps him out of the White House.

Mitt Romney and the Dirty Side of Politics

Remember Rick Santorum? He’s the Presidential candidate in the United States whose name was redefined by gay rights campaigners because of homophobic remarks he had made in the past.

Well Rick’s not the only one now. Front-runner Mitt Romney is now finding himself in a similar situation, as Google searches for his name start to show the same pattern. The Spreading Romney website is not yet topping all searches for Mr Romney’s name, but its presence could prove something of an embarrassment.

It seems that in 1983, Mr Romney and his family embarked on a 12-hour journey to Canada with their dog strapped to the roof in a special travel box. After a few hours, the Romneys discovered that the poor dog had suffered an uncontrolled bowel movement. The would-be president got out of the car, hosed the dog down, and then left it on the roof for the remainder of the journey.

Hence the new definition of Romney – “to defecate in terror”.

The site was created by 28-year-old Jack Shepler from Indianapolis, who said he wanted to draw attention to the incident. It seems he is not after a new definition for the dictionary, and it seems unlikely that people who suffer extreme moments of terror allied to stomach cramps will be saying “I was so scared I Romneyed” any time soon.

But the power of associating a name with a single definition does seem to be a growing trend in the political game in the United States, and the more that people coin these definitions and associate the protagonists with distinct ideas, then the more those ideas might stick. There is already a search on for what Newt Gingrich’s name might mean at the Spreading Gingrich website.

Incidentally, the growth of the Spreading Romney website comes as German linguists announce the winner of their Anglicism of the Year award. They felt that the English word that has made the best contribution to the German language over the last 12 months is “Sh*tstorm”, defining it as “a public outcry, primarily on the Internet, in which arguments mix with threats and insults to reach a critical mass, forcing a reaction”.

All over the world, there is a degree of crap driving language change.

Change Leads the Change in Election Language

Lovers of new words will have been delighted to see the success that Rick Santorum had in the Iowa caucuses this week. But while the former senator will have been equally pleased at making a good start in the lengthy journey to the White House, he will not want to be reminded about his contribution to neologisms.

In 2003, Mr Santorum made some comments in an interview which were viewed as anti-gay. Shortly afterwards, gay rights activist Dan Savage wrote about the remarks and was encouraged by a reader to launch a competition to find a new sexual definition for Santorum in order to forever associate the politician with his remarks.

There were more than 3,000 entries and the final result, which I won’t repeat here for readers of a delicate disposition but can be found here, is still the top item which comes out when you search for ‘Santorum’ on Google.

It’s certain that Mr Santorum would not have wanted this in people’s minds when he plotted his assault on the presidency, and frankly, it would have been the kind of thing that could have been dismissed as old trivia. Until Mr Santorum contacted Google in September 2011 and asked them to remove the offending website from their indexes. And Google, predictably, said no. Well done Mr Santorum, that certainly helped people to forget about the issue.

Wordability finds this tale interesting on two counts. Firstly, it is unusual to actually solicit a new meaning for a word – these things tend to evolve naturally, so the competition aspect of this quest is refreshingly different.

The second reason is more to do with politics, and specifically American election politics. Wordability will be following the US election year with great interest to see which words emerge as the dominant ones. Politicians everywhere, but especially in the United States, are masters at changing the nuances of a particular word and repeatedly using it during a campaign to subtly influence the mindset of voters.

The Republican party are regarded as formidable masters of this skill. For example, before 2004, you might have been forgiven for thinking that a flip-flop was not much more than some fairly flimsy footwear that you would wear to the beach. But the Republicans noticed how Democrat candidate John Kerry had a habit of changing his mind on key issues, and the notion of Kerry and the flip-flop was born. The potency of that one word was a key part of the ultimately successful campaign against him, and received widespread coverage.

You might also think that the word ‘liberal’ is not necessarily a bad one and simply suggests an even-minded and tolerant approach to the issues. Yet in the United States, it has become a term that means quite left wing and prone to overspending Government money, and Republican politicians use it as a word with which to savage their Democrat adversaries.

But with the Democrats dominating the 2008 election, it was no surprise that a word from that campaign not only helped the Barack Obama victory campaign but was also the most significant word of the year. That word was ‘change’.

The subtle shift in meaning that the Obama campaign achieved was actually quite stunning. Of course, any politician campaigning to unseat a rival party is going to be preaching a message of change. ‘Vote for me, I’m exactly the same as the other guy’ is a surefire way of making sure that other guy wins.

But what the now-president did was to make ‘change’ something so much more than just ‘something different’. It became a potent word meaning not only a break from the current situation but also a golden and more rosy future, that the change that was coming was a better life, a greater life, a life to which we all aspire. No matter that he did not have to define how this change would be achieved, no problem that offering change is quite clearly the most obvious thing that any politician should do. No, all he had to do was keep on offering this mystical ‘change’ to all who were listening, and the quite hypnotic effect it had on voters propelled him to victory.

One caucus in, we are a long way off knowing who will be taking on the incumbent later this year and of course we have no idea who will be inaugurated in January 2013. But we can say that lovers of political language change will certainly be winners, as we wait to see what linguistic dexterity the next 10 months will bring. Let the battle commence.