words of the month
Researching material for New Word of the Month and Word of the Week is a fascinating task and it never ceases to amaze me just how incredibly creative we users of the English language are. Over several years of researching neologisms, it’s my perception that new media have undoubtedly increased the flow of new words and expressions into the language, providing the means to both expose and embed new items of vocabulary. It’s almost as if 21st century communication has suddenly provided rich, fertile conditions for the language to grow and propagate.
2007 has been another lexically-productive year, and below we provide our traditional seasonal snapshot of how English is responding to our changing needs, habits and experiences . . .
If, after making your loved ones’ dreams come true at Christmas, you’re finding yourself a bit strapped for cash, how about some free money? All you need to do is take up the newly-coined practice of stoozing. Stoozers are canny individuals who borrow money within the introductory interest-free period offered by some credit card companies. After investing the money elsewhere and thereby making a profit, they then pay back the borrowed amounts and pay no (or, at worst, much less) interest. Pure profit with no effort or risk – this sounds so ‘too good to be true’ that those of us wanting to be quids in can even check out a number of websites providing advice about the best ways to stooze.
‘You may or may not have heard of stoozing. The word is thought to have been named after a user called “Stooz” on the Motley Fool finance website, who was one of the earliest proponents of the technique. A stoozer borrows money on a 0% interest-rate credit card, and then puts the cash in a high interest savings account. Once the 0% period is over, the stoozer pays the original capital back and keeps the interest earned on the savings.’ (MoneyWeek, 27th February 2006)
It’s February and the shop displays glow red and pink as the Valentine’s machine kicks in again. If the sight of all those hearts and roses is a poignant reminder that there is still no ‘significant other’ in your life, then remember that it’s the noughties and there are so many ways of speeding up the search. Yes, you’ve probably heard of speed-dating (a romp through a series of three-minute chats with potential partners), but for those of us who enjoy a good book or two, there’s now read dating, where budding soul mates spend three minutes discussing a book before moving on to the next person; allegedly an equally effective way for bookworms to assess the merits of a potential partner. Those of us who enjoy a more intellectual approach to discovering a lifelong relationship could also now consider intellidating. A blend of intelligent and dating, intellidating is a more highbrow, unhurried approach to romance, based on attending lectures, readings and other cultural events.
‘Intellidating takes over the US dating scene . . . Tired of online matchmakers and other fad concepts such as speed dating, singles in the US . . . are turning over a leaf with intelligent dating — a phenomenon where youngsters meet others in a public place and listen to lectures, exchange views on world affairs or debate a documentary or a film, instead of the usual dinner-and-a-dance routine.’ (DNA World, 17th April 2007)
‘Yes, you can judge a bloke by his cover . . . this event is not an ordinary speed dating occasion, all beer and bells and braying chat-up lines. This is read dating and after half a glass of wine my companions start to look less like terrifying predators and more like the sort of pleasant, slightly shy types that, well, you'd expect to meet in a library on a quiet Thursday night . . .’ (The Observer, 19th March 2006)
For those of us in the northern hemisphere, Spring is in the air as we begin to see daffodils blooming and the temperatures rising . . . Well, actually no, that’s not quite right, because the daffodils have been out for weeks, and that skiing holiday in the Alps last month was severely hampered by the lack of snow. It’s a classic case of the newly-identified phenomenon of season creep, where Winters are warmer and Spring arrives earlier. And as the extended Spring turns into Summer, another kind of ‘creep’ will prematurely remind you of Winter again – by late August the shops will be brimming with Christmas paraphernalia. That’s Christmas creep, the now well-established practice of filling the shops unseasonably early with mince pies, tinsel and cuddly reindeer . . .
‘While to some, an early arrival of spring may sound good, an imbalance in the ecosystem can wreak havoc. Natural processes like flowers blooming, birds nesting, insects emerging, and ice melting are triggered in large part by temperature. As temperatures increase globally, the delicately balanced system begins to fall into ecological disarray. We call this season creep.’ (Environment Maryland, 21st March 2006)
April showers? That certainly wasn’t the case in the United Kingdom this year, as people spent the Easter weekend basking in sunshine. In a month conventionally associated with erratic weather, lush green grass and gently emerging spring flowers, Britain was suddenly baking, with temperatures rising to as high as 28°C, the hottest April since records began 350 years ago. People watched early flowering Hawthorn bushes and Swifts arriving prematurely from Africa. Unexpected natural events like these, caused by the ongoing effects of climate change, are now being referred to as climate canaries. Just as the canary in a coalmine stops chirping when there’s an impending disaster, the climate canary heralds a much more significant and potentially destructive environmental event. The story continues in June . . .
‘Agriculture is the industry most likely to be directly effected by global climate change and the grape, being such a delicate creature, will act as our canary . . . Grapes are our climate canary because they grow only in a narrow band of climatic conditions. Early spring frosts kill budding grapes on the vine, while extreme summer heat causes the vine to stop fruit development . . .’ (Ars Technica, 28th July 2006)
Temperatures are rising, the sun is out, and the holiday season is just around the corner . . . Many of us will now contemplate a weekend trip to the beach, wanting to be energised by sun, sand and the glistening sea. This year however, it seems that some folks in Britain aren’t satisfied with a quick dip in the sea or a paddle with rolled up trousers. In a new craze called tombstoning, adrenaline-fuelled individuals of all ages have been throwing themselves off rocks, harbour walls and cliff faces in an attempt to get a bit more of a thrill from their encounter with the water. Sadly, however, the expression tombstoning became sombrely appropriate, with a number of fatalities involving tombstoners. Meanwhile, those of us who prefer to lie on the beach should guard against another kind of extreme activity. In a newly identified condition dubbed tanorexia, it seems that some people will pursue a tanned body to the point of obsession. Tanorexics consider themselves ‘white’ if their bodies are not exposed to natural or simulated sunlight on a daily basis, and are prepared to run the risk of getting a serious skin disease in order to maintain the perfect tan.
A woman suffered abdominal injuries after a tombstoning incident off cliffs near Prussia Cove. The 26-year-old jumped into the sea but suffered severe stomach pains while getting out of the water and collapsed trying to get back up the cliff.’ (The Cornishman, 8 November 2007)
‘After baking her body under UV radiation in a tanning bed as often as four times a week for three years, she developed melanoma. “I was definitely a tanorexic,” she said. “I never thought I was dark enough.” ’(ABC News, 6th May 2007)
And just when the British weather seemed too good to be true - it was too good to be true! In June 2007 the rains came, and came, and came . . . making it the wettest June on record. Many parts of Northern England received the equivalent of a month’s rainfall in 24 hours. Thousands of homes were flooded and agriculture took an alarming blow as fields disappeared underwater. Was this the climate canary actually dropping off its perch? And had the residents of the Gloucestershire town of Tewkesbury known what was in store for them in the weeks that followed, they’d have packed a go bag in June and got out quick! (Tewkesbury was flooded so badly that it was effectively cut off from the rest of the country, lying at the confluence of two rivers which had both burst their banks.) A go bag? This is a term emerging in US English to describe a bag containing clothes and other essential items, used if a person needs to evacuate their home quickly. Whether it’s flooding in Britain, Californian wildfires, terrorism or bird flu, in the 21st century it seems that there are so many reasons to pack a go bag . . .
‘Skies awash in orange from the flames set a backdrop for frantic Californians loading their cars with computers, clothes and family photos. In the hectic minutes as families flee from disasters like wildfires, it’s easy to forget necessary items.
‘Emergency managers recommend families should create their evacuation plans long before they are needed. Every family member should have a go bag.’ (12News, 23rd October 2007)
It’s July 2007, and that much-anticipated (or dreaded, depending on your point of view) smoking ban finally comes into force in England and Wales. Following the Republic of Ireland in 2005 and Scotland in 2006, it is now illegal to smoke in any form of public building, including bars and restaurants. Those who resent being forced outside, can at least find some consolation in the newly-coined practice of smirting - flirting whilst grabbing a quick ciggie outside a bar or restaurant. And in 2007, smirting is joined by smexting, another tongue-in-cheek blend formed from smoking and texting, meaning smoking while sending text messages. The expression was coined when British mobile phone network Orange™ reported a sudden surge in the volume of text messaging during the two weeks following the smoking ban. Ciggie in one hand, mobile in the other, smexters are now joining the smirters, banished from pubs and offices across the UK . . .
‘Hence the arrival of a new trend for smexting: an increased number of text messages being sent because smokers (now forced to hang outside since the adoption of a smoking ban in England on July 1) are spending their time tapping away on their mobile phones.’ (Guardian Unlimited, 6th August 2007)
‘Some English smexters say they have turned to texting since the ban as a way of seeking the support of friends in an effort to quit smoking. It's more fun than the patch.’ (Time, 16th August 2007)
If you hear someone talking about how they’ve got problems with their ‘hip’, then from the 1st of this month they’re just as likely to be talking about the house they own as they are about mobility problems. From August 2007, new laws were introduced in England and Wales making it compulsory for anyone selling a home with more than two bedrooms to provide prospective buyers with a Home Information Pack. More commonly referred to as a HIP, or sometimes described as a seller’s pack, this is a collection of documents intended to prove that what the seller claims about the property is true. Among the legal and practical documents contained in the HIP is the so-called energy performance certificate, which rates the property according to energy efficiency and environmental impact. A HIP costs around £500, and just like that essential body part, you can’t do without it, because you could be fined at least £200 for not having one – HIP HIP hooray!
‘Is the thought of completing a Home Information Pack (HIP) a thorn in your side? Are you overwhelmed and confused by the different elements required? Panic not. With Persimmon Homes getting a HIP is just a short hop to your new home this Autumn. In fact they’re already so used to dealing with HIPs that they are now offering to complete them for all purchasers who part exchange with them . . .’ (Easier, 15th November 2007)
Back to school or college this month? If you’d like to speed up the time it takes you to walk to and from home, why not take up one of this year’s crazes and grab yourself a pair of Heelys. They might only look like innocent training shoes, but by surreptitiously enabling those chunky wheels embedded in the sole, you’ll suddenly be able to glide along the pavements at a rate of knots. Unlike roller-skates or rollerblades, the Heely-er has a choice about whether to walk, run or, by shifting their weight to their heels – roll. Think before you buy however, for the ingenious Heely has sparked a wave of controversy surrounding safety. Throughout the year we’ve seen numerous reports of children falling prey to nasty accidents whilst Heelying.
‘Heelys, the sneakers with the wheels on the soles, have rolled into our cities and suburbs and country villages, transforming our apple-cheeked children into surreptitious freestylin' pedestrians.’ (Times Herald-Record, 21st February, 2007)
‘Heelys denies its product is inherently dangerous, pointing to figures from America showing that Heely-ing is far less hazardous than skateboarding, for example . . .’ (The Telegraph, 1st February 2007)
On 5th October 2007, Oxford University Press launched a poll to find a word that summed up the events and moods of these first few years of the 21st century. Among OUP’s own candidates was the word gingerism, a new term describing the unfortunate concept of prejudice against people with red hair. The expression was thrown into the spotlight a few months earlier, when there were newspaper reports of a red-haired family who claimed to have been driven from their home because of harassment and abuse. Moving from red to ‘green’, and on the more constructive side, OUP’s final choice for 2007 was footprint, which in the 21st century regularly collocates with words such as carbon, green, calculator and reduce. This linguistic fact somehow embodies the early 21st century zeitgeist – our realization that we need to protect the planet has meant that our language has become ‘greener’ too . . .
‘A red-headed waitress who was taunted about the colour of her hair has been awarded £17,618 compensation by an employment tribunal . . . The tribunal decision has prompted new fears that gingerism could be the next form of workplace discrimination.’ (UK Legal News, 10th July 2007)
‘With this in mind, a major part of the day will be the opportunity to learn about the potential impact of your carbon footprint and practical advice will be given about how to reduce it.’ (The Scotsman, 15th November 2007)
Bad news this month for turkeys, and Christmas is still several weeks away! Some 22,000 of the little fellows made the ultimate sacrifice even before making it to the festive meal table, when a poultry farm in Suffolk saw a sudden outbreak of the bird-flu virus. This latest scare rekindled exposure of the term H5N1 in the news headlines. H5N1 is a technical label for a subtype of the Influenza A virus, a virulent strain which can cause illness in humans and many other animal species. In the midst of a series of similar bird-flu scares, one as recent as February and also in Suffolk, the expression H5N1 has taken on an association with panic, culling, and misery for the poultry farming industry. Though essentially a scientific formula and not particularly easy to either say or remember, H5N1 has now lodged itself into public consciousness in much the same way as did the terms SARS and tsunami in the recent past.
‘Humans rarely contract H5N1, but the virus has killed 206 out of 335 people infected since 2003, according to the World Health Organisation. Experts fear the strain could spark the next global pandemic.’ (Reuters, 14th November 2007)
December already? Only a couple of weeks, (or maybe even days!) till Christmas, and you still can’t think of what you should buy for Dad, Auntie Mabel, your best friend or yourself! You could be suffering from the recently-named but widely-experienced condition of shopper’s block, the inability to think of a suitable present for someone. Even online shoppers aren’t off the hook since, having set out with the goal of finding and ordering a gift for someone, they could easily fall into the trap of wilfing, or in other words, browsing the Internet aimlessly (an acronym of what was I looking for).
And when the presents have been opened, the H5N1-free turkey has been eaten, and the mulled wine has been drunk, maybe you’ll be feeling slightly plumper and more unfit than usual. The solution? Drag yourself away from the telly, throw your kids off the games console and get yourself fit with a bit of exergaming. A blend of exercise and gaming, this is the activity of playing video games which provide physical exercise. Why not grab the Wiimote (a motion-sensitive game controller for the popular Nintendo Wii® console) and play a game of tennis, but watch out for Wii elbow (arm pain caused by excessive game play). Maybe it’s time for another sherry?!
‘’Twas four days before Christmas when I finally attempted to do some gift shopping. Three stores and about $200 later the present score stood at Angie: 6, Family: 0. I had a bad case of shopper's block, at least when it came to other people . . .’ (Personal Weblog, 26th December 2005)
‘ . . . almost a quarter of the country's internet users spend 30% or more of their internet time wilfing - that's the equivalent to spending an entire working day every fortnight browsing the net aimlessly.’
‘A push for new frontiers in the fitness market, an aging gamer population, and increasing rates of obesity among the young are all fueling the trend toward exergaming.’ (PR Web, 18th August 2007)
‘Nintendo's new system forces players to move their bodies, causing aches for some couch potatoes; a case of Wii elbow.’ (Wall Street Journal, 25th November 2006)
A very Merry Christmas and a Happy 2008 . . .
For more information about new and topical words and phrases, read Kerry's Word of the Week articles on the MED Resource Site.