Shwopping Presents a New Swapportunity

What is it with the need to create new words out of ‘swap’? Earlier this year, Wordability looked at the non-word Swapportunity, which has managed to gain a degree of currency despite being made up for an American Yoplait commercial.

Now UK retailing icon Marks & Spencer has got in on the act. Its new campaign, encouraging people to bring in an old item of clothing to donate to Oxfam whenever buying something new, has prompted them to try and introduce a new word into everyday English. People are shopping and swapping, so they must be Shwopping.

The plan has, hardly surprisingly, garnered significantly publicity, with ‘shwopping’ featuring prominently in all the coverage.

Can M&S claim to have invented it? The company is certainly proud of the word, and chief executive Marc Bolland was quoted as saying: “Within 24 hours this word of ‘shwopping’ might be added to the British language.”

But I wonder whether he checked with environmental campaigners in New Zealand. After all, in December last year, The Big Shwop took place in Wellington, encouraging people to swap one item for another. So maybe not quite as original as we thought.

Personally, I am not sure about shwopping as a word. It sounds a bit to me like I was planning to swap something, but the six pints of beer I drank made it much harder for me to say it. And that would be the only way I would be likely to shwop until I dropped.

To Facebook or Not To Facebook

One of the most common drivers of new words is technology. It is a subject to which Wordability will often return.

For my opening gambit though, I am going to spurn the obvious. Currently, I think the obvious is Twitter and the plethora of tweeps, twebinars and retweetings which it has spawned. Loath as I am to send you off somewhere else, the BBC recently published an admirable account of some of these developments, though please don’t think of following that link until you have finished reading this.

No, my current interest is technology words as verbs. Now this may not sound like a particularly enthralling avenue to go down, but come with me. Because it is actually fundamental for showing us which branches of technology have established themselves as the de facto standard. It is the linguistic rule by which we can see which brand has won.

If you think I am overstating this, think about the ubiquity of Hoover or Xerox. Everybody knows that these are brand names that have become the standard verbs to describe the act that they perform. When a brand name has triumphed to become the verb of choice, then it’s game over.

So where has the battle finished in the current technological world? I think Sky has been victorious in the world of home recording. ‘To Sky Plus’ now seems to have become the accepted phrase for recording television on any Sky Plus style box. Sky wins.

When it comes to altering images with a computer, we ‘Photoshop’ them, whatever software we have actually used. Go Adobe.

And when we search on the internet, we all know that these days we ‘Google’ for stuff, rather than search for it. In fact, you only have to look at what came before for a clue as to why Google was always going to win this battle. ‘I Yahooed myself’ conjures up an entirely different set of images altogether.

But Google could be about to become embroiled in a linguistic battle to come. It will be one which will really show us who’s boss.

There is much discussion online about whether Facebook can be used as a verb. A friend of mine commented on Facebook recently that he was watching a film while ‘Facebooking’, and then wondered whether it was really a verb.

Well, I think it is, but I think it currently has quite a specific meaning. ‘To Facebook’ is very much to use Facebook itself, to look at it, and to contact someone via Facebook. ‘I Facebooked that girl I chatted to on the bus last week’ makes sense, even if it is socially suspect.

But Facebook has not become a generic verb to describe all types of social networking, and this is where Google enters the fray. Google Plus is the company’s answer to Facebook, and the next few months will give us a clue as to whether it can halt the Zuckerberg express. And I think that linguistic usage will provide us with a clue as to how that battle is playing out.

Because it will only be when we use ‘Facebook’ or ‘Google Plus’ as a verb to describe any act of social networking that we will we truly know which technological monolith has come out on top.