‘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.

Giving back to English: how Nigerian words made it into the Oxford English Dictionary



Photo by Bruce Milton Miller/Fairfax Media via Getty Images.

Kingsley Ugwuanyi, Northumbria University, Newcastle

Nigeria was recently in the spotlight when the Oxford English Dictionary announced that its January 2020 update included 29 Nigerian English words.

The reception, in both the traditional and new media, was nothing short of sensational. Most Nigerians expressed a great sense of pride in the fact that the unique ways in which they use English were being acknowledged internationally.

The Oxford English Dictionary said in the release note:

By taking ownership of English and using it as their own medium of expression, Nigerians have made, and are continuing to make, a unique and distinctive contribution to English as a global language.

Interestingly, the idea of Nigerians owning English is the fulcrum of my doctoral research. In it, I found that increasingly Nigerians are demonstrating a strong sense of ownership of the English language, and in particular their use of it.

The inclusion of Nigerian English words in the Oxford English Dictionary is, in a sense, a recognition of the tremendous efforts by scholars of Nigerian English many of whom have produced discipline-shaping research. This has included four published dictionaries of Nigerian English.

These developments indicate that Nigerian English has indeed come of age. They also validate the concentric circle model developed by Professor Braj Kachru, the father of world Englishes research. This avers that the ‘outer-circle’ varieties of English (where Nigerian English belongs) is ‘norm-developing’. In other words, that Nigerian English is adding to the norms of English.

I think the English, indeed the English-speaking world, should be thankful to Nigeria for this historic gift.

So how were the words chosen?

As the Nigerian consultant to the project which saw the inclusion of the words, I have insights into the process the team underwent in adding them. These include the rationale for adding them, and the enormous significance the inclusion holds for the English language.

How, and why, new words are added

The Oxford English Dictionary has a wide variety of resources to track the emergence of new words and new senses of already existing words.

The Oxford English Corpus is one. This is an electronic database of different types of written and spoken texts specifically designed for linguistic research. In the case of Nigerian English and other World English varieties, for instance, suggestions of new words and senses come from the corpus, reading books and magazines written in the English varieties in question as well as looking at previous studies, and the review of existing dictionaries, if any.

Once there is a list of candidates, a team of expert editors at the Oxford English Dictionary looks closely at the databases to ensure that there are several independent instances of the words being used. And how they are being used.

Other factors that are considered include the time period over which words have been used, as well as their frequency and distribution. But there’s no exact time-span and frequency threshold. Some words – such as Brexit – are relatively young but were included quickly because of the huge social impact they had in a short space of time. Others are not used frequently but are included because they are of specific cultural, historical, or linguistic significance to the community of their users. An example is ‘Kannywood’, the word describing the Nigerian Hausa-language film industry, based in the city of Kano.

It’s clear therefore that the editors don’t simply select the words or senses that appeal to them. Instead, they are guided by use, which links in with the prevailing thought in lexicography and linguistics more generally: that the remit of dictionaries and linguistic research is not to prescribe how languages should be used but to describe how languages are being used.

Words are added because the Oxford English Dictionary recognises that English is a universal language. It believes that including words from varieties of English all over the world enables it to tell a more complete story of the language.

These varieties also reflect the unique culture, history, and identity of the various communities that use English across the world. Nigerian English is a good example. Like other English varieties, it is a living ‘being’ with its own unique vocabulary, encompassing all sorts of lexical innovations. These include borrowings from local languages, new abbreviations, blends and compounds.

Failure to capture such words would deny English an opportunity to grow. It would also deny the flavour of what the speakers of these varieties contribute to the development of English.

What does it mean for English?

One of the reasons previous world languages such as Egyptian and Ancient Greek ceased to exert dominance internationally was their inability to keep pace with developments around the world.

Perhaps this is one factor that clearly distinguishes English. It has demonstrated a capacity for growth by keeping its borders open, helping it to develop from a West Germanic dialect spoken in a small island into a world language. English is now spoken by about 1.75 billion people – a quarter of the
world’s population
. This includes first and second language speakers.

One way English grows is by admitting new words and senses not just from other English varieties but from virtually all languages of the world. For instance, English has had the word ‘postpone’ since the late 15th century, but it was through India that its opposite ‘prepone’ entered English in current use during the 20th century.

Similarly, Nigerian English is reintroducing the verb meaning of ‘barb’, which existed in 16th century British English.

This is how English maintains its dominance. In addition, the Internet has given today’s Oxford English Dictionary editors wider access to non-traditional sources of linguistic evidence. This has enabled them to widen and improve the dictionary’s coverage of world varieties of English, affirming Oxford English Dictionary’s claim as “the definitive record of the English language”.The Conversation

Kingsley Ugwuanyi, Lecturer/Doctoral Researcher, Northumbria University, Newcastle

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.

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.

Do you know a Bunji from a Boorie? Meet our dictionary’s new Indigenous words


Bruce Moore, Australian National University

A new edition of the Australian National Dictionary has just been published. It contains 16,000 words and while the first edition (published in 1988) included about 250 words from 60 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, the latest has more than 500 words from 100 languages.

Conventional wisdom has it that borrowings of this kind usually occur in the initial “contact” period. In 1770, for instance, James Cook and Joseph Banks collected the word kangaroo from the Guugu Yimithirr language in the area now known as Cooktown in Queensland, and it immediately came into use in English.

Soon after the initial batches of convicts arrived in Sydney from 1788 onwards, words from local languages were taken up, especially for new flora and flora and for things associated with the Indigenous people: koala, wallaby, kurrajong, waratah, woomera, corroboree. Later, the language of the Perth area provided jarrah, kylie (a word for “boomerang”), numbat, and quokka. The language of the Geelong area provided the mythical monster the bunyip.

The Indigenous word waratah was quickly adopted.
Internet archive book image/flickr

Some Aboriginal words, although noted in the early period, were not used widely in Australian English until much later. Perhaps the most startling example of this is the word quoll, which comes from the Guugu Yimithirr language, and was also collected by Cook and Banks in 1770.

When the Europeans arrived in 1788, they did not use quoll or other Indigenous names for these marsupials. Instead, they used the term native cat, preferring to construct terms based on superficial resemblances to things of their “known” world. It wasn’t until the 1960s that quoll was reintroduced, and eventually replaced native cat, largely due to the efforts of the naturalist David Fleay, who highlighted the absurdity of some of the vernacular names for Australian animals.

It took nearly 200 years for the word quoll to be widely used.
WA Department of Parks and Wildlife/AAP

Many of the new Aboriginal words in this edition refer to flora and fauna, and many of these result from an interest in using Indigenous names rather than imposed English descriptive ones.

Thus, the southern and northern forms of the marsupial mole are now referred to by their Western Desert language names itjaritjari and kakarratul. The rodent once called the heath mouse is now known by its indigenous name dayang, from the Woiwurrung language of the Melbourne area. The amphibious rodent formerly known as water rat, is now more commonly referred to in southern Australia as the rakali, from the Ngarrindjeri language.

Other additions to the dictionary include (from the Noongar language of the Perth area) balga for the grass tree, coojong for the golden wreath wattle, moitch for the flooded gum and moort for Eucalyptus platypus.

Coojong, formerly known as golden wreath wattle.
liesvanrompaey/flickr, CC BY

The increasing interest in bush tucker has meant the inclusion of akudjura for the bush tomato, from the Alyawarr language of the southern region of the Northern Territory, and gubinge, from Nyul Nyul and Yawuru of northern Western Australia, for an edible plum-like fruit.

Other new terms reflect a renewed interest in aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and various kinds of activism on the part of Indigenous peoples.

They include bunji, “a mate, a close friend a kinsman” (from Warlpiri and other languages of the Northern Territory and northern Queensland), boorie, “a boy, a child” (from Wiradjuri), jarjum, “a child” (from Bundjalung), kumanjayi, “a substitute name for a dead person” (from Western Desert language), pukamani “a funeral rite” (from Tiwi), rarrk “a cross-hatching design in art” (from Yolngu languages), tjukurpa, “the Dreaming; traditional law” (from Western Desert language) and yidaki, “a didgeridoo” (from Yolngu languages).

Performance of a Yidaki Didg and Dance at Sydney Opera House in 2000.
Adam Pretty/AAP

The word migaloo – “a white person” – comes from Biri and other northern Queensland languages, where it originally meant “a ghost, a spirit”; many Australians are familiar with this word as a name for the albino humpback whale that migrates along the east coast of Australia.


Author provided

Many of these terms begin their transition to mainstream Australian English in forms of Aboriginal English, and some of them are primarily used in Aboriginal English.

In addition to the words from Indigenous languages, there are numerous terms new to the dictionary that render Indigenous concepts and aspects of traditional culture, formed from the resources of English.

These include such terms as: carved tree, dreamtime being, freshwater people, keeping place, law woman, paint up, saltwater people, secret women’s business, smoking ceremony, songline, sorry business, welcome to country.

A smoking ceremony at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra earlier this year.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Others derive from more specific political contexts and political activism: Day of Mourning, great Australian silence, Invasion Day, Mabo, tent embassy, traditional ownership and white blindfold (“a view of Australian history that emphasises the achievements of white society and ignores Aboriginal society”).

This is a dictionary based on historical principles. This means that each entry maps the full history of a word, establishing its origin, and documenting its use over time with illustrative quotations from books, newspapers, and the like. Words and meanings are included if they are exclusively Australian, or used in Australia in special or significant ways.

The dictionary, edited at the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the Australian National University, and published by Oxford University Press, will be launched today at Parliament House in Canberra.

The Conversation

Bruce Moore, Visiting Fellow in the School of Literature, Languages, and Linguistics, Australian National University

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