‘Iso’, ‘boomer remover’ and ‘quarantini’: how coronavirus is changing our language



Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Kate Burridge, Monash University and Howard Manns, Monash University

People love creating words — in times of crisis it’s a “sick” (in the good sense) way of pulling through.

From childhood, our “linguistic life has been one willingly given over to language play” (in the words of David Crystal). In fact, scientists have recently found learning new words can stimulate exactly those same pleasure circuits in our brain as sex, gambling, drugs and eating (the pleasure-associated region called the ventral striatum).




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We’re leximaniacs at heart and, while the behaviour can occasionally seem dark, we can learn a thing or two by reflecting on those playful coinages that get us through “dicky” times.

Tom, Dick and Miley: in the ‘grippe’ of language play

In the past, hard times birthed playful rhymes. The 1930s Depression gave us playful reduplications based on Australian landmarks and towns – “ain’t no work in Bourke”; “everything’s wrong at Wollongong”; “things are crook at Tallarook”.

Wherever we’re facing the possibility of being “dicky” or “Tom (and) Dick” (rhyming slang for “sick”), we take comfort in language play. It’s one thing to feel “crook”, but it’s another thing again to feel as “crook as Rookwood” (a cemetery in Sydney) or to have a “wog” (synonymous with “bug”, likely from “pollywog”, and unrelated to the ethnic slur “wog”).

Remedies may be found in language’s abilities to translate sores into plasters, to paraphrase William Gouge’s 1631 sermon on the plague. New slang enables us to face our fears head-on — just as when the Parisians began calling a late-18th century influenza “la grippe” to reflect the “seizing” effect it had on people. The word was subsequently taken up in British and American English.

In these times of COVID-19, there are the usual suspects: shortenings like “sanny” (hand sanitizer) and “iso” (isolation), abbreviations like BCV (before corona virus) and WFH (working from home), also compounds “corona moaner” (the whingers) and “zoombombing” (the intrusion into a video conference).

Plenty of nouns have been “verbed” too — the toilet paper/pasta/tinned tomatoes have been “magpied”. Even rhyming slang has made a bit of a comeback with Miley Cyrus lending her name to the virus (already end-clipped to “the Miley”). Some combine more than one process — “the isodesk” (or is that “the isobar”) is where many of us are currently spending our days.

Slanguage in the coronaverse: what’s new?

What is interesting about COVID-lingo is the large number of creations that are blended expressions formed by combining two existing words. The new portmanteau then incorporates meaningful characteristics from both. Newly spawned “coronials” (corona + millennials) has the predicted baby boom in late 2020 already covered.

“Blursday” has been around since at least 2007 but originally described the day spent hung over — it’s now been pressed into service because no one knows what day of the week it is anymore. The official disease name itself, “COVID”, is somewhere between a blend and an acronym because it takes in vowels to make the abbreviation pronounceable (CO from corona, VI from virus and D from disease).

True, we’ve been doing this sort of thing for centuries — “flush” (flash + gush) dates from the 1500s. But it’s never been a terribly significant method of coinage. John Algeo’s study of neologisms over a 50-year period (1941–91) showed blends counting for only 5% of the new words. Tony Thorne’s impressive collection of over 100 COVID-related terms has around 34% blends, and the figure increases to more than 40% if we consider only slang.

Not only have blends become much more common, the nature of the mixing process has changed too. Rather than combining splinters of words, as in “coronials”, most of these corona-inspired mixes combine full words merged with parts of others. The “quarantini” keeps the word “quarantine” intact and follows it with just a hint of “martini” (and for that extra boost to the immune system you can rim the glass with vitamin C powder). Many of these have bubbled up over the past few weeks — “lexit” or “covexit” (the strategies around exiting lockdown and economic hardship), “coronacation” (working from home) and so on.

Humour: from the gallows to quarantimes

Humour emerges as a prevailing feature of these blends, even more so when the overlap is total. In “covidiot” (the one who ignores public health advice and probably hoards toilet paper), both “covid” and “idiot” remain intact. There’s been a flourishing of these types of blend — “covideo party”, “coronapocalypse”, “covidivorce” to name just a few.

Clearly, there is a fair bit of dark comedy in the jokes and memes that abound on the internet, and in many of these coinages too — compounds like “coronacoma” (for the period of shutdown, or that deliciously long quarantine sleep) and “boomer remover” (used by younger generations for the devastation of the baby boomer demographic).




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Callous, heartless, yes. But humour is often used as a means of coming to terms with the less happy aspects of our existence. People use the levity as a way of disarming anxiety and discomfort by downgrading what it is they cannot cope with.

Certainly, gallows humour has always featured large in hospital slang (diagnoses like GOK “God only knows” and PFO “pissed and fell over”). For those who have to deal with dying and death every day, it is perhaps the only way to stay sane. COVID challenges us all to confront the biological limits of our own bodies – and these days humour provides the much-needed societal safety valve.

So what will come of these creations? The vast majority will fall victim to “verbicide”, as slang expressions always do.The Conversation

Kate Burridge, Professor of Linguistics, Monash University and Howard Manns, Lecturer in Linguistics, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cancel culture, cleanskin, hedonometer … I’m not sure I like any of Macquarie Dictionary’s words of the year



‘Cancel culture’ has been nominated Word of the Year by The Macquarie Dictionary, for reflecting the zeitgeist.
Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Roslyn Petelin, The University of Queensland

How many of these words, shortlisted by The Macquarie Dictionary in its search for the 2019 Word of the Year, have you used? Anecdata, big minutes, cancel culture, cheese slaw, cleanskin, drought lot, eco-anxiety, flight shaming, healthwashing, hedonometer, mukbang, ngangkari, robodebt, silkpunk, thicc, and whataboutism?

I confess the only one on this list (whittled down from 75 words), that has passed my lips has been “cleanskin”, but I wasn’t referring to someone with no tattoos – the new definition.

I may not have used these shortlisted words, but I have certainly experienced the effect of some of them and can appreciate the value of others. (“Whataboutism”, for instance, a technique used “in responding to an accusation, criticism or difficult question in which an opposing accusation or criticism is raised”, will come in very handy when describing many politicians. )

I doubt, though, whether I’ll be able to remember and use many of these words, colourful and tinged with negativity as many are.




Read more:
When we needed a new word, Twitter gave us ‘milkshake duck’


The Macquarie Dictionary committee has chosen “cancel culture” as its Word of the Year. The term is used to describe community attitudes that

…call for or bring about the withdrawal of support from [for] a public figure, such as cancellation of an acting role, a ban on playing an artist’s music, removal from social media, etc., usually in response to an accusation of a socially unacceptable action or comment by the figure.

Unfortunately, there have been any number of recent examples in Australia of ostracism through “cancel culture”, whose cases have progressed to the courts. I hesitate to mention Geoffrey Rush here.




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‘The zeitgeist’

The committee chose “cancel culture” because it believes the term “captures an important aspect of the past year’s zeitgeist”.

In looking over the list, I’m not sure that I like any of these words. I think a couple of them are ridiculous, in particular “hedonometer”, an algorithm using language data from Twitter to analyse levels of happiness.

To qualify as Macquarie’s word of the year, a word must be newly added to the dictionary in that year or, as is the case with “cleanskin”, an old word with an additional new meaning.

Macquarie points out that it differs from other dictionaries, as some simply choose the most common word being searched, or most topical word, regardless of its status as “new”. The people at Cambridge Dictionary, which chose “upcycling” for 2019, relied on their Instagram account to make the call.

If the Macquarie committee had done this, its 2019 Word of the Year would have been “cheese slaw” (a salad of grated carrot, grated cheese, and mayonnaise), which it admits would have been a “niche and controversial” choice.

Macquarie has posted a photo on its website of a cheese slaw (stuffed into a sandwich), as well as an equally unappetising photo of a companion food word “mukbang”. A mukbang, by the way, describes a live online broadcast in which someone eats, often a large amount, while simultaneously speaking to their audience.

Criteria apart from “new” for Macquarie appear to be that a word is ubiquitous, timely, influential, and makes a valuable contribution to Australian English. So, does “cancel culture” qualify? Kind of.

Macquarie sorts the year’s new words into 15 categories, and one could spend an enjoyable time and several hours cruising through them: agriculture, arts, business, communications, eating and drinking, environment, fashion, health, politics, sport, and technology.

ngangkari and thicc

Two of the most interesting new additions – both runners-up as word of the year (along with eco-anxiety) – are “ngangkari”, adopted unaltered from Pitjantjatjara, for an Indigenous practitioner of bush medicine, and “thicc” from African American English, which “celebrates body positivity that does not conform to conventional white standards of beauty”.

The environment figures strongly in this year’s shortlist, in “eco-anxiety”, “flight shaming”, and “drought lot”. Still, the folk at Collins Dictionary named their Word of the Year for 2019 as “climate strike”. The Oxford Dictionary chose “climate emergency” as its Word of the Year.




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Flight shaming is an anti-flying movement that originated in Sweden last year, which encourages people to stop taking flights to lower carbon emissions.
shutterstock

The Macquarie Committee has now opened the voting for People’s Choice Word of the Year 2019. Only once in the past five years has the committee’s and the people’s choice aligned. In 2015, “captain’s call” won both categories.

You may wonder why the competition is even called “word of the year” when it comprises two words, or even three. In 2016 the people’s choice was “halal snack pack”. As the website points out, it’s the lexical unit of meaning that the committee considers, what’s called the “headword” in a dictionary.

In the meantime, if you are interested in chasing up the Macquarie shortlist and maybe voting, you have until midnight on Sunday December 8 to do so.The Conversation

Roslyn Petelin, Course coordinator, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Five common words we’re all using incorrectly



Stark naked? Not quite…
Shutterstock

Simon Horobin, University of Oxford

Many people think they know their main language intimately. But there are many words and phrases in English that people often use wrongly. Whether these erroneous uses truly count as “wrong” is up for debate – after all, a mistake that has become widely adopted should really be considered acceptable. But whichever side of this argument you err towards, here are five examples of ones that we are all making.

1. Stark naked

Someone who has no clothes on is widely described as being stark naked. Originally, however, the phrase began as start naked – from the Old English steort, meaning “tail”. The phrase literally meant “naked to the tail”, probably referring to the buttocks.

Although the word steort is not recorded in this sense, tail has often been used in this way – as it still is in the American phrase work your tail off. The word steort fell out of general use around 1300, surviving only in the names of birds like redstart and wagstart (better known today as the wagtail).

The switch from start to stark naked was triggered by start becoming obsolete, combined with an association with stark, meaning “completely”, in phrases such as stark dead, stark blind and stark naught – first recorded in the early 16th century in the savage put-down: “Ye count your selfe wele lettred [educated], your lernyng is starke nought.”

2. Sneeze

The verb to sneeze is imitative in origin – the sound of the word mimics the sound of the thing it names, as with words like drip, fizz, beep and the noise created by a sneeze: atishoo.

But the original form of the word was fnese, along with fneosung (“sneezing”), and fnora (“a sneeze”). The change from fnese to sneeze arose through confusion caused by the way the word appeared in medieval manuscripts.

Medieval handwriting employed several different forms of the letter “s”, including an 8-shaped form, another resembling a kidney bean, the Greek letter sigma and a long form – still found in printed books of the 18th century. This last letter closely resembled the letter “f” and it was confusion between the long “s” and “f” that resulted in fnese being adapted into modern English sneeze.




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3. Gravy

While gravy may seem a quintessentially English sauce, the word is actually French in origin. Gravy was originally grané, meaning “spiced”, from Latin granum “grain”.

The letters “u” and “n” were often indistinguishable in medieval handwriting – both were formed using two single vertical strokes called minims – so that it would be easy for a scribe to misread the word as graue.

While the letters “u” and “v” are distinguished by the sounds they represent today, in medieval English they varied according to position: “v” appeared at the beginnings of words (vntil, “until”) and “u” in the middle (loue, “love”), irrespective of the sound. As a result, the word grané came to be misread as gravy, and this form has been used ever since.

4. Adder

Adder (the snake) goes back to the Old English word nædre; it is one of a small number of English words where the initial “n” has been lost due to confusion over where the boundary falls when following the indefinite article a/an.

As a result of this process, known as metanalysis, a nædre became an adder. The same misapprehension lies behind words like apron (from napron, related to nappe, “tablecloth”) and umpire (originally nonpeer, “no equal”).

The word orange was also formed this way, although in this case – since it is a borrowing into English from French – the mistake had occurred before it was adopted into English. The French orange is itself a borrowing of the Arabic word naranj (the initial “n” is still found in modern Spanish naranja); it was confusion following the indefinite article un that produced the modern form.

Watch your indefinite article.
Shutterstock

5. Cherry

The word cherry originates in the northern French dialect word cherise (a variant of the standard modern French cerise), which was adopted into English after the Norman Conquest of 1066.

Because it ended in an “s”, English speakers mistakenly understood it to be a plural form and so the false singular cherry was born. The same process lies behind the word pea, erroneously derived from the singular form pease (ultimately from Greek pison) – preserved in the nursery rhyme “pease pudding hot, pease pudding cold”.

Although these changes took place hundreds of years ago, the process can be observed today in the emergence of bicep: a singular form of biceps. This may seem logical, but biceps is an adoption of a singular Latin noun, from bi- “two” and -ceps “headed”, referring to a muscle with two points of attachment.

The tendency for speakers to associate the “s” ending with plurals has also given rise to erroneous plural forms. Despite phenomena being the plural of Greek phenomenon, the false plural phenomenas is sometimes used. But the error of this type that is most likely to make pedants reach for their red pens is paninis – the supposed plural of Italian panini (singular panino) – a reminder that what is acceptable for some remains anathema for others.The Conversation

Simon Horobin, Professor of English Language and Literature, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year: Toxic


The links below are to articles reflecting on the Oxford Dictionaries 2018 Word of the Year – toxic.

For more visit:
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/word-of-the-year/word-of-the-year-2018
https://www.npr.org/2018/11/15/668041894/toxic-is-oxford-dictionaries-word-of-2018
https://bookriot.com/2018/11/15/toxic-2018-oxford-english-dictionary-word/

When we needed a new word, Twitter gave us ‘milkshake duck’



File 20180117 53324 pg38y5.png?ixlib=rb 1.1

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Roslyn Petelin, The University of Queensland

What is this milkshake duck that the “whole internet loves”? “A lovely duck that drinks milkshakes”. Had anyone heard this slang term before this week, when the Macquarie Dictionary announced it as their 2017 Word of the Year? Probably not. Unless they move in certain circles on the internet. Surely this is a joke!

Indeed, the term was coined as a joke. Able to be used as both a noun and a verb, it has existed since June 12 2016 when Australian cartoonist Ben Ward tweeted it to cover a trend that he had satirised for which there wasn’t a name: a non-celebrity enjoying a viral rise overnight on the internet, followed shortly thereafter by a rapid fall after being outed on the internet because of an unsavoury act in their past. In Ward’s tweet the cuddly duck is accused of being a vicious racist.

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There is no denying that the term is useful, but is it a totally new phenomenon of the internet age? Efforts to coin words that people wish would exist have a long history and enjoyed a particular vogue in the early 1980s before the rise of commercial internet providers.

For instance, in 1983, in The Meaning of Liff, Douglas Adams and John Lloyd compiled a “dictionary of things that there aren’t any English words for yet, based on names of places in England”. A typical example is Shoeburyness — “the vague uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat that is still warm from somebody else’s bottom”.

From obscurity to notoriety

Ward tweeted what he obviously thought was a pretty good joke about the power of social media to adulate, elevate, and then reject. What Ward didn’t expect to happen was that it would morph into a meme.

A year after Ward’s tweet the term came to the attention of Oxford Dictionaries Online, via the podcast Reply All, after a high-profile gamer, Tim Soret, was designated as a milkshake duck when it emerged that he had been involved in 2014’s notorious online sexist harassment scandal “Gamergate”. The Oxford Dictionaries Radar column of June 22 2017 noted that the usage of the term milkshake duck was rising and promised to keep an eye on it.

In the Comments column of The New Yorker, the eminent Harvard scholar Louis Menand says: “People prefer to have their neologisms boil up unbidden from the global electronic soup — like, for instance, ‘milkshake duck’.”

Menand’s comment emphasises the inarguable role of social media in the coining of new words, but he resists explaining “milkshake duck” and suggests that his readers Google it. The term is also included in the American Dialect Society’s 2017 Word of the Year list, which announced “fake news” as its winner. Interestingly, fake news, the meaning of which has changed significantly in the past year, was Macquarie’s Word of the Year for 2016.

The Macquarie committee stated in the justification for their choice of “milkshake duck” that it was a “much-needed term to describe something that we are seeing more and more of, not just on the internet but now across all types of media”.

It will be interesting to see if the term does enter the mainstream. No one whom I have spoken to since Monday had heard it used before its announcement as word of the year, but I expect it will gain some impetus with the push from Macquarie.

Sniglets and fugitives

The image of the duck is ridiculous and has no discernible connection to any real event. Its Dadaist absurdity is reminiscent of a Marx Brothers’ film or the anti-joke riddle: “What’s the difference between a duck?” “One of its legs is both the same.” It joins a long line of neologisms coined to meet a specific purpose.

In 1984, Rich Hall, a comedian whom many of us know from Stephen Fry’s QI, published a book, Sniglets, a sniglet being “any word that doesn’t appear in the dictionary, but should”.

My favourites are “mustgo” for an item that’s been in your fridge for so long that it’s a science experiment, “Xiidigitation” for the practice of trying to determine the year that a film was made by deciphering the Roman numerals at the end of the credits, and “merferator” for the cardboard cylinder inside a roll of toilet paper. There have reportedly been English classrooms where students have been encouraged to create sniglets. What a good idea!

Also in the 1980s, Barbara Wallraff created a feature, “Word Fugitives”, in The Atlantic online that capitalised on this fashion for recreational word creation. She invited readers to suggest words that they would like to see available and she and other readers would do their best to coin a new word to represent the phenomenon. For instance, is there a word for when a pet and its owner look alike?

The ConversationIn the meantime, are there any words that readers of this article can suggest are needed and that will deserve a place in the Macquarie Dictionary?

Roslyn Petelin, Associate Professor in Writing, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Here’s one to gymnologize over: the case for bringing back snollygostery, trumpery and humbuggery



File 20170605 20608 6fa0bk
The Oxford English Dictionary overflows with words that have been created (most during the 1800s) to tilt at governments of various sorts.
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Kate Burridge, Monash University

Words and expressions come and go. Sometimes you can understand why they don’t linger. It’s hard to imagine there was ever much call for peristeronic, “suggestive of pigeons” – and there’s no evidence that gymnologize, “to argue whilst naked”, or decacuminated, “having the tops cut off”, have even been used.

Words of such spectacular pomp and pointlessness only ever had lives inside dictionaries (early lexicographers were notorious for making them up).

But sometimes we seem to let extremely useful expressions drop by the wayside. Humans suffer from a kind of congenital leximania, an irresistible passion for creating new words (such as leximania). In our lust for neologisms we lose sight of those expressions already doing a very fine job.

Here is a handful of such words – they have political applications and are today as apt and as ept as they ever were.

Political smutting and besmearing

Now is not the time to let roorback go – a neatly packaged expression that covers any false report, or slander, propagated for political purposes.

It derives from the name of a fictitious author Baron von Roorback. Published in 1844, his account of a gang of slaves destined for the Louisiana sugar mills was intended to disgrace James K. Polk, the Democratic candidate for president of the United States. The humbug was exposed, but usually the timing of roorbacks is such that they can’t be detected before voters go to the polls.

Clearly, spreading disparaging furphies for political gain is not new. The word was popular throughout the 19th century, even used a little into the 20th century, before it quietly shuffled off the lexical coil.

But today’s digital world is providing the perfect ecosystem for the roorback to flourish. A word for “political dirty tricks” – how could we let that one go?

Monumental talknophical assumnacy

Snollygoster is another wonderful creation to come out of the USA (around the same time as roorback). It could refer generally to smart people without principles, but its reference narrowed rather quickly to the crafty and unprincipled politician. The definition provided by the Columbus Dispatch (October 28, 1895) is worth repeating in full:

A snollygoster is a fellow who wants office, regardless of party, platform or principles, and who, whenever he wins, gets there by the sheer force of monumental talknophical assumnacy.

Whenever I ponder the phrase “monumental talknophical assumnancy”, I’m reminded of Alice’s words on hearing the poem Jabberwocky: “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas – only I don’t exactly know what they are.” Talknophical assumnancy – there’s a lot of it about.

The delightful name snollygoster conceals its nasty origins. The word is probably connected to snallygaster, a reshaping of Pennsylvania German schnelle Geister (“quick spirits”) – dragon-like creatures which, as folklore describes, made a practice of stealing children and chickens from unsuspecting farm folk.

The shift from “grotesque gargantua” to “political shyster” is telling. But it’ll take more than a hex sign on a building or rabbit’s-foot talisman to keep these modern-day snollygosters at bay.

A flourishing of ocracies

The Oxford English Dictionary overflows with words that have been created (most during the 1800s) to tilt at governments of various sorts. One stands out and that is kakistocracy, the creation of English writer Thomas Love Peacock for “government by its most unprincipled citizens” (from Greek kakistos “the worst”). In fact little needs to be done to rehabilitate his word.

Its comeback of late has been spectacular, with headlines heralding a new era of kakistocratical rule.

So will we be seeing a reappearance of other “ocracies”? Foolocracy and kleptocracy spring to mind.

Trumpery and puffery

Though strictly not a political term, the old word trumpery has always had close links with political shenanigans, even before it acquired its extra significance today.

The word appeared in English in the 1400s, meaning “deception; fraud”. It derives from the verb trump “to deceive; cheat” – not to be confused with the other trump verb around at that time meaning “to blow a trumpet” or “break wind audibly” (though it seems to me these trumps have always been tightly linked).

Trumpery then shifted to mean “something of less value than it seems” before extending to “something of no value at all” (applied to abstract things, objects and people).

Of course, trumpery has deception at its root, but the -ery ending adds that extra layer of unscrupulousness (bringing to mind trickery, humbuggery, jiggery-pokery and a pile of other seedy “ery” words).

And while there is the other positive trump (that appears in expressions like turn up trumps), it’s worth highlighting that this trump is nothing more than a corrupted form of triumph (an alternative pronunciation that appeared in the 1500s).

The two trumps are currently on a collision course, and we know from experience that rarely do positive meanings prevail when senses coincide in this way. Besides, there’s always been a dishonest whiff around even the trump card in its extended uses — and, as the behaviour of words over time shows, dishonest whiffs will just get whiffier.

The ConversationTrumpery, kakistocracy, snollygoster and roorback are words worthy of a phoenix-like re-application — let’s pick them up, dust them off and put them to work.

Kate Burridge, Professor of Linguistics, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Video: Benjamin Franklin on Drinking Beer


The video below may be of some help to authors/writers who may be looking for various descriptive words or phrases that describe having drunk a little too much beer. The video has 220 synonyms used by Benjamin Franklin for being drunk.