THE REAL WORDS OF THE YEAR – 2018

It has become a tradition for the major dictionary publishers, along with some linguists’ associations, to nominate a ‘word of the year’, a term (or in the case of Oxford’s 2015 crying/laughing emoji a symbol) which supposedly captures the essence of the zeitgeist, and in doing so marks the proposer as someone in tune with the times and with their target audience. The words chosen are rarely actually new, and by the nature of the exercise calculated to provoke disagreement and debate. I have worked with and written about what linguists and anthropologists call ‘cultural keywords’ and have my own ideas on which expressions could be truly emblematic of social change and cultural innovation. The words already nominated by the self-appointed arbiters are discussed at the foot of the page, but here, for what it’s worth, are mine (in order of preference)…

 

Image result for Artificial intelligence

AI

Yes, strictly speaking it’s two words, but this little initialism looks like a two-letter word and is processed by the brain as a ‘lexeme’ or a single unit of sound and sense. AI, artificial intelligence, is the hottest topic not only in tech-related practices but in fields as (seemingly) diverse as marketing, finance, automotives, medicine and health, education, environmentalism. Zdnet.com has published one of the most useful overviews of AI and its sub-categories and applications:

https://www.zdnet.com/article/what-is-ai-everything-you-need-to-know-about-artificial-intelligence/

Though it is one of the most fashionable and most resonant terms in current conversation, a slogan and a rallying cry as well as a definition, AI is problematic in the same way as two other recent contenders for word-of the moment, CRYPTO and DIGITAL. The former is shorthand for all the very complex, not to say near-incomprehensible elements that have accompanied the invention of crypto-currencies – bitcoins and blockchains in particular. These advances have yet to prove their worth for most ordinary consumers who will often be bemused by new terminology that seems to be traded among experts somewhere beyond their grasp or their reach. In the same way for the last few years ‘digital’ has been a mantra evoking the unstoppable influence of new electronic media, (related SOCIAL was a strong candidate for buzzword of 2017). Digital’s over-use by overexcited marketing professionals, would-be thought-leaders and influencers has been inspiring mockery since 2016, as in the spoof article in the Daily Mash: https://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/business/nobody-knows-what-digital-supposed-to-mean-20160614109525

To put it almost as crudely as the Daily Mash does, there’s a sense in which almost no layperson knows, or can know fully, what Digital, Crypto and AI really mean, and the same goes for the expressions derived from them – ‘deep learning’ comes to mind. Their power derives from their novelty and their ability to evoke a techutopian future happening now. The phrase artificial intelligence was first employed in 1956 and its abbreviated form has been used by insiders since at least the early 2000s, but it is only now that it, and the concepts it embodies, are coming into their own.

 

Image result for kimberle crenshaw

INTERSECTIONALITY

At first sight just another over-syllabled buzzword escaping from the confines of academic theory (‘performativity’, ‘superdiversity’ and ‘dimensionality’ are recent examples) into highbrow conversation, intersectionality is actually an important addition to the lexicon of identity studies. It was coined as long ago as 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a civil rights activist and legal scholar who wrote that traditional feminist ideas and anti-racist policies exclude black women because they face overlapping discrimination that is unique to them.  The word took 26 years to make it into the OED and is still unfamiliar to many, but during 2018 has featured in more and more debates on diversity and discrimination, marking the realisation that, for BAME women and for other marginalised groups, the complexities of oppression and inequality occur in a matrix that incorporates not only gender and ethnicity but such factors as age, sexuality and social class. There are each year a few forbiddingly formal or offputtingly technical expressions that do deserve to cross over into mainstream use. This I think is one of them and no journalist, educationalist, politician or concerned citizen should be unaware of it.

A bad-tempered take on intersectionality as buzzword was provided last year by https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/30/intersectional-feminism-jargon

 

Image result for civility politics

CIVILITY

I was intrigued by the sudden appearance (sudden at least by my understanding) earlier this year – its online lookups spiked in June – of a decorous, dignified term in the midst of very undecorous, undignified public debate. This old latinate word’s denotations and connotations were in complete contrast with the ‘skunked terms’ and toxic terminology that I had collected elsewhere on this site. In fact, as is often the case, this word of the moment emerged from a longer tradition, but one largely unknown hitherto outside the US. Its proposer was Professor P.M Forni, who sadly died a couple of weeks ago. In 1997, together with colleagues he established the Johns Hopkins Civility Project — now known as the Civility Initiative — a collaboration of academic disciplines that addressed the significance of civility and manners in modern life. His ideas were seized upon by commentators on this year’s events in the US, with some asserting that the civil rights protests of the past were indeed more civil than today’s rancorous exchanges. Democrat Nancy Pelosi denounced Donald Trump’s ‘daily lack of civility’ but also criticised liberal opponents’ attacks on him and his constituency. Others pointed out that polite debate alone had never prevailed in the struggles against bigotry and violence and that civility was an inadequate, irrelevant response. Cynics inserted their definitions: ‘civility’ = treating white people with respect; ‘political correctness’ = treating everybody else with respect…which prompts the thought that perhaps, in recognition of realities on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s really ‘incivility’ that should be my word of the year.

Image result for keywords

Here, in the Economist, is the ‘Johnson’ column’s perceptive analysis of those other nominations for 2018’s word of the year:

https://www.economist.com/books-and-arts/2018/12/08/the-meaning-of-the-words-of-the-year

While US lexicographer Kory Stamper provides the inside story on the American choices:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2018/12/18/language-nerds-worked-really-hard-that-words-year-list/wJgdhIMAQK7xcBvlc2iHOL/story.html?s_camp=bostonglobe:social:sharetools:twitter

Lynne Murphy‘s annual US to UK export/import of the year:

https://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2018/12/2018-us-to-uk-word-of-year-mainstream.html

And her UK to US counterpart:

https://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2018/12/2018-uk-to-us-word-of-year-whilst.html

In the New Year the American Dialect Society announced its own word of 2018, a disturbing euphemism employed by the Trump regime and a candidate for my glossary of toxic terminology (see elsewhere on this site):

https://www.americandialect.org/tender-age-shelter-is-2018-american-dialect-society-word-of-the-year

Last, but very much not least, from the militantly millennial LinguaBishes, some excellent examples of millennial/Generation Z terms of 2018:

https://linguabishes.com/2018/12/27/2018-words-of-the-year/

 

 

And, FWIW, I like to think that my own collection of cultural keywords, seeking to define the essence of Englishness back in 2011, is still relevant today:

Image result for the 100 words that make the english tony thorne

A GLOSSARY OF SKUNKED TERMS*, BREXITSPEAK and THE TOXIC TERMINOLOGY OF POPULISM

Image result for snowflake slur

 

I have been collecting new and controversial language generated by the rise of conservative populism in the US and the UK, by pro- and anti-Trump sentiment in the US and by the divisions resulting from the UK’s Brexit vote. This is a work in progress: the preliminary list of terms as it stands is below. Soon I plan to offer detailed definitions and comments (for example, the first word in the list is my own invention, intended to describe a statement, act or policy showing effrontery, and itself a deliberate affront to a section of the population) and a ‘lexical’ categorisation (into ‘jargon’, ‘slang, ‘catchphrase’, cliché, for instance).

**Please do contact me with new examples, with comments and with criticism, which will be gratefully acknowledged and credited.**

Affrontery

Airfix patriotism

Alpha

Alt-centre

Alt-right

Antifa

Anywheres

Astroturfing

Attitudinarian

Backstop

Based

Beta

Black ops

Blowback

Bot

Both-sidesism

Breadcrumbs

Brectum

Bregressive

Bregret(s)

Bremain

Brengland

Brexiles

Brexit dividend

Brexiteer

Brexit means Brexit

Brexmageddon

Brexodus

Brextension

BRINO

Butthurt

Cakeism

Calling out

Centrist dad

Cherry-picking

Civility

Cosmopolitan

Corbynista

Corporatocracy

Crash out

Crybaby

Cuck

Cultural marxist

Deep state

Deplorables

DEXEU

Disaster capitalism

Divorce bill

Dogpile

Dog-whistle

Double down

Drain the swamp

DREAMer

Elite

Establishment

Ethnonationalist

Ethno-state

Fake news

Fall off a cliff

False flag operation

Fashy

Feminazi

Finger-sniffer

Flextension

Fractionate

Gammon

Gammonista

Globalist

Guardianista

Hard Brexit

High-vis nazis

Hobbit

Hose it down

Identitarian

Incel

Indicative vote

Individual-1

Jambon jaunes

Jexodus

Kicking the can down the road

King baby

Kipper

Leave means leave

Lentil-weaving

Lexit

Libertarian

Libtard

Limp-wristed

Little Englander

Londonistan

Low-energy

MAGA

Magic Grandpa

Magic money tree

Majoritarian

Mangina

Masculinist

Matrixed

Maybot

Meaningful vote

Melt

Meninist

Metropolitan

MSM

Nanny state

Nativist

Neglexit

Neon nazis

Neutrollization

No-deal

No-platforming

Normie

Palaeoconservative

Pearl-clutching

People’s vote

Pile on

Political correctness

Postmodern

Post-truth

Project Fear

Put/stick that on the side of a bus

QAnon

Quitlings

Red pill

Regrexit

Remainiacs

Remain plus

Remoanathon

Remoaner

Roll back

Rootless

Row back

Sadopopulism

Shadow blocking

Shire

Singapore-on-Thames

SJW social justice warrior

Skunked term

Snowflake

Soft border

Soft Brexit

Somewheres

Sovereignty

Soy-boy

Spartan phalanx

Sunlit uplands

Taking back control

Targeted individual

Tender-age shelter

Terf

Terminability

Throw under the bus

Tick tock

Tigger

Tofu-eating

Trexit

Tribal(ism)

Troll farm/factory

Truth-squadding

Unicorns

Urban

Vassal state

Virtue-signalling

Walk back

Weaponised

Whataboutery

White supremacist

Will of the people

Woke-washing

Yoghurt-knitting

Image result for snowflake slur

I’m grateful especially to the many contacts on Twitter who have already contributed to this modest project, and will credit them by name/handle when a final version is posted or published.

In February 2017 The New European published its own very useful lexicon, from which I have drawn, gratefully but without permission :

https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/culture/the-new-lexicon-of-hate-a-disturbing-a-z-of-alt-right-language-1-4894833

And the BBC listed many of the technical – and some less technical – terms associated with Brexit earlier this year:

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-43470987

Last year Karl McDonald discussed the language used by Labour party leftists in the i newspaper:

https://inews.co.uk/news/politics/slugs-melts-inside-language-culture-corbynite-left/

And here’s Helen Lewis in the New Statesman on incivility in the UK:

https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2018/08/how-britain-political-conversation-turned-toxic

And Philip Seargeant on ‘fake news’:

https://infolit.org.uk/the-role-of-information-literacy-in-the-fight-against-fake-news/

In November 2018 The Guardian published a useful ‘jargon-buster’ guide to the terms being used at this late stage of (or impasse in, if you prefer) UK-EU negotiations:

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jun/19/brexit-phrasebook-a-guide-to-the-talks-key-terms

Here Renee DiResta describes the ongoing ‘Information War(s)’ of which the manipulation of language is one component:

https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2018/11/28/the-digital-maginot-line/

I have only just come across this perceptive essay from 2017, by Otto English on his Pinprick blog, in which he coins the terms Ladybird libertarian and Ronseal academic:

Ladybird Libertarians: Dan Hannan, Paddington and the pernicious impact of 1970s children’s literature on Brexit thinking

In January 2019 James Tapper contributed this very perceptive assessment of Brexit metaphors:

https://daily.jstor.org/many-metaphors-brexit/

 

*’Skunked terms’ are words or expressions undergoing a controversial change in meaning. Examples are ‘liberal’ and ‘libertarian’ which have transitioned from referring to leftist, progressive or centrist positions to denote neo-conservative or alt-right affiliations.

Image result for Brexit graffiti

 

STILL BEWITCHED

In my last post I looked at the names of a range of Hallowe’en creatures and investigated their origins. Let’s now consider, too, the practitioners of magic – whether supernatural or real –  impersonated in today’s festivities.

 

Image result for halloween vintage postcards

 

The most familiar of these, the witch, derives its modern name, in use since the 16th century,  from the Old English wicce (the feminine form) or wicca (the masculine), first attested as long ago as 890 CE, or perhaps was coined later from the verb to bewitch, descending from Old English wiccian. Many commentators have proposed a prehistoric origin for the English terms, but have not managed to agree on what that origin might be. Middle Low German, the nearest neighbouring language to ours, had wicken and wicheln for bewitch, but there are no other contemporary cognates (provably related words) recorded elsewhere in mediaeval Europe.

 

Image result for manuscript witch

 

Attempts have been made to connect the Germanic witch-words with Indo-European roots denoting contorting (as when shamans are performing incantations), waking (the dead for instance) or casting lots (to determine destiny), but these are unconvincing. There is an unproven but more plausible link with Slav words derived from the Old Slavonic verbs meaning ‘to know’ which use the root ved- or wied-. Female witches were, in English too, described as ‘wise’ women, as in the equivalent Slovenian vedomec, or Polish wiedźma. The modern German name for witch, hexe, is probably, but again not provably, related to English hag, (Old English haegtesse) an ancient word which persisted in use among the superstitious in the United States, who also adopted ‘hex’ in the 19th century from Pennsylvanian German as a synonym for curse.

(Our relatively innocent domestic companion, the cat, could also double as a witch’s evil familiar, and nowadays as a Hallowe’en character in its own right. Its name, catte in Old English, is obviously related to Dutch kat and German Katze and more distantly to the earlier Latin cattus and Greek catta. Intriguingly, though, the word’s origin might not be Indo-European at all but Afro-Asiatic; in the Nubian language it is kadis, for Berbers kaddîska, and in Arabic qitt.)

Image result for wizard

The witch’s male counterpart, the wizard, certainly does derive his name from wisdom or knowing. Wisard, from Old English wys, wise and the suffix (originally French) -ard meaning person, first described a sage or a philosopher before mutating in the 16th century into the practitioner of magic we nowadays caricature in pointed hat and robe. The synonyms sorcerer or sorceress come from French sorcier, enchanter or magician, itself from Latin sors meaning fate, oracular pronouncement, from an Indo-European root denoting binding and sorting.

 

Image result for killer clowns

 

I’m personally highly resistant to clowns in any form, but particularly the grotesque killer clowns that have been running amok in popular literature, cinema and even public places for the last couple of years. Forgive me, then, if I limit myself to etymology. The noun clowne (cloyne was a variant that has since disappeared) appeared in English in the 1560s, the verb form in 1600. The word originally signified a rustic, a clumsy peasant or simpleton. It is not clear exactly where it came from – some eminent authorities have tried to link it to the Latin colonnus, a farmer or settler, but it seems to others – and to me – that it’s no coincidence that similar-sounding words existed in Scandinavian and Low German usage, all related to our own ‘clod’ and ‘clump’ and evoking something lumpy, dense and crude. English dialects and the English of the tavern often adopted colloquialisms from other parts of Northwest Europe in the Early Modern period. Clown was first used to describe a costumed and painted circus performer in the 1720s and other languages including Welsh, French, Swedish and Slovenian subsequently borrowed the English word in this sense.

 

...for last year’s festival, Marketing Week gave us a snapshot of the commercial implications:

https://www.marketingweek.com/2017/10/27/why-halloween-is-now-crucial-to-some-uk-brands/?cmpid=em~newsletter~weekly_news~n~n&utm_medium=em&utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=weekly_news&eid=4232955&sid=MW0001&adg=E5AE84A1-4595-4F7C-B654-36202215BA19

 

HALLOWE’EN CREATURES – ORIGINS AND ETYMOLOGIES

Image result for goblin mediaeval manuscripts

 

The reanimated (it had virtually disappeared in Britain until revived in the 1980s in its American incarnation) festival of Hallowe’en draws ever nearer, and its ghastly avatars begin to assemble in the darkness. Wearyingly familiar though their images have become, thanks to commercialisation, the origins of these bugbears’ names are not always straightforward. The lurid orange pumpkin has mutated, its modern name an alteration of ‘pompone’ and ‘pumpion’ which could designate either melon or pumpkin in the 1540s. The English word was adopted from French pompon, from Latin peponem, meaning only melon, from the earlier Greek pepon. The ‘-kin’ suffix, meaning little or cute, was borrowed from Middle Dutch, the ‘pom/pum/pep’ component probably an example of prehistoric sound symbolism whereby the puffing required to say the words imitates the inflation of the bulbous object itself.

In fact it was more often the turnip that was hollowed out and illuminated in England, Scotland (where they are known as ‘tumshies’) and Ireland until recently, pumpkins being an American favourite. But there is a very odd connection between two of Hallowe’en’s most potent symbols in a 19th-century report by the Slovene folklorist Wiesthaler who writes that superstitious Balkan Gypsies believed that pumpkins (and watermelons too) could become possessed and exhibit vampiric characteristics.

 

Image result for pumpkin

 

Hobgoblin (the ‘hob-‘ is a familiarising nickname, from Hobbe, a variant form of Robbe or Robin) or goblin appeared in English in the 14th century with the sense of mischievous ugly devil or fairy. It was probably borrowed from 12th century French gobelin which is thought to be related to mediaeval German kobold, a household or subterranean sprite, and possibly to the older Greek kobalos which denoted an impudent rogue. Sprite, incidentally, is a modern pronunciation of the Middle English ‘sprit’, a shortened form of spirit, while spook, borrowed by Americans from Dutch in the early 19th century has cognates in German, Swedish and Norwegian and probably comes from an ancient Germanic term for wizardry. Imp has meant little devil since the later 16th century, from the notion of a being that was the ‘offspring of satan’. In Old English ‘impa’ referred to a graft or shoot from a plant, coming to us via Latin impotus, from Greek emphytos, implant, ultimately from a presumed IndoEuropean word *bheu, grow.

 

Image result for goblins, sprites and imps victorian halloween postcards

 

Ghosts* are named from Old English gast which meant spirit or soul and could also mean breath. The ‘h’ was added in the 15th century, probably by printers influenced by the Flemish or Middle Dutch form of the word, gheest. Both are related to German geist, spirit, which comes from the presumed proto-Germanic *gaistaz, itself from a presumed Indo-European root *gheis– used to form terms conveying amazement and/or fright. In the same category are the phantom, from Greek phantasma (unreal image, apparition) which became Old French fantosme before being borrowed by English, the spectre retains the French form of a Latin word for an apparition,  spectrum, from the verb specere, to see. Wraith, on the other hand, is a Scottish word, recorded in the 15th century but of unknown provenance. It has been suggested that it is related to writhe or to wrath, or to an Old Norse word, vǫrðr, a guardian spirit or watcher.

 

Image result for ghoul old manuscript

 

Though its spelling now makes it look like a relative of ghost, ghoul was originally Arabic غول gul, the name of an evil spirit, a desert demon recorded in Islamic folklore and said to haunt cemeteries, devour newly-buried cadavers, abduct children and attack travellers. Its root is a verb meaning to seize and it is probably related to galla, a very ancient Akkadian and Sumerian term for a fiend from the netherworlds. The word was anglicised, first as ‘ghul’, in the late 18th century.

 

Image result for zombie old movie

 

Zombie, first recorded in English in an 1819 guidebook to Brazil and popularised in movies of the 1930s, comes via the Haitian Creole word zonbi and Caribbean French zombi, denoting an animated corpse, a staple of voodoo folklore, transplanted from zumbi, fetish and n-zumbi, originally the name of a snake god, in the Kumbunu and Kikongo languages of West Africa.

 

De weerwolf, of wolf-man komt uit de Europese folklore. In het Frans ook wel bekend als loup-garou. Eigenlijk werden de verhalen later pas bekend, maar er zijn wel kleine aanwijzingen te vinden van verhalen rond (of voor) 1200.

 

The werewolf combines the ancient name of the ravenous animal – wulf, later wolf – with the Old English wer, man, which shares an origin with Latin vir (from which we get virile, manly). In the 13th century wer fell out of usage, but the compound expression survived, as it did in other Germanic languages.

For me, though, because I have studied it, and because it is the most complex, the most protean of these beings, it is the vampire whose attributes and incarnations are the most fascinating. The bat was, in Old English, until the 14th century, the bakke, related to Old Scandinavian words such as natbakka, literally ‘nightflapper.’ By 1570, however, ‘bat’, a country dialect alternative, had become the preferred form.

The bat, however, is only one version of the protean vampire. That monster’s many other incarnations are discussed elsewhere on this site.

 

Image result for halloween vintage postcards

 

The venerable ancestors of our modern shapeshifters, from the classical era, are discussed in this two-part blog by Sententiae Antiquae:

Halloween is Next Week: Time for Werewolves!

The Child-Killing Lamia: What’s Really Scary on Halloween is Misogyny

Possibly the most monstrous Hallowe’en disguise of 2017 was revealed by The Poke:

https://www.thepoke.co.uk/2017/10/26/british-kids-dressing-donald-trump-halloween/#.WfHT-Gpw0jA.twitter

*Finally, the ghost emoji is decoded here by John Kelly:

https://blog.emojipedia.org/emojiology-ghost/

POSH?!

Image result

In November 2002 the Sun newspaper reported that footballer’s wife ‘Posh Spice’ Victoria Beckham had launched a legal bid to stop second division football club Peterborough United from registering its nickname Posh as a trademark. The former Spice Girl claimed the word had become synonymous with her. ‘Sun readers, the paper affirmed, ‘back the club, which has used the name for eighty years.’ This little word epitomises both the English obsession with status distinctions and the jokey tone in which such a contentious subject is often addressed.

Fictional characters in the novel Diary of a Nobody, published in 1892 and the musical Lady Madcap, playing in London in 1904, sported the name Posh, and in a 1918 Punch cartoon a young swell is seen explaining that it is ‘slang for swish’. The first use of the word in the Times newspaper was in a crime report from May 1923, headlined ‘The Taxicab Murder’. ‘A walking stick was left at the scene of the crime, which the murderer left behind after shooting the driver, which belonged to his friend Eddie Vivian. He said…that he went out with Eddie’s stick because he wanted to be ‘posh’.’ In 1935 in the same paper the use of the word, which still appeared between quotation marks, was excused as ‘inevitably the idiom of the younger generation creeps in’.

The popular derivation, from the initial letters of ‘Port Out, Starboard Home’ allegedly affixed to the cabin doors of first-class passengers on P&O Orient Line steamships, is certainly false, as demonstrated by, among others, word-buff Michael Quinion in his 2005 book which took the phrase as its title. Posh seems to have been used in low-life slang for some time before it was first recorded in a dictionary of 1889 with the principal meaning ‘money’ and the subsidiary sense of ‘dandy’. It may be the same word, in the form ‘push’, meaning ‘swanky, showy’, that featured in Edwardian upper-class student slang (‘quite the most push thing at Cambridge’ was P.G Wodehouse’s description of a fancy waistcoat, from 1903). The ultimate origin, then, is obscure: in the Romany language which was a rich source of pre-20th century argot, posh could mean ‘half’, often referring to half a shilling/crown/sovereign, etc. so may have come to denote money in general, then the trappings of wealth.

In 1966 Michael Aspel was carpeted by the BBC for selling records of elocution lessons featuring his voice and that of  Jean Metcalfe (whose obituary in 2000 noted her ‘deep, cultivated voice’, the ads for which implied, the corporation said, that broadcasting required a posh voice. Like class-consciousness itself, and like the assertively upper-class accents it often described, the word posh seemed to fall out of fashion after the end of the 1960s,  only to reassert itself at the new millennium. At the end of the ‘noughties’, it took on a renewed importance with David Cameron’s accession to the leadership of the Tory party and fellow Old Etonian Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson’s election as London mayor. As a literal synonym of privileged/wealthy/upmarket it is usefully inoffensive. Very frequently, however, it is used ironically, as in references to ‘posh nosh’ (typically very expensive sausages), and what online gossip site Popbitch dubs the ‘too-posh-to-push brigade’ – pampered mothers who opt for caesareans at private hospitals rather than natural births.

Reviewing Joanna Lumley mocking her own accent in a 2005 TV commercial, the Independent on Sunday commented, ‘In the 1960s, After Eights, Harvey’s Sherry and Cockburn’s Port were sold to Mrs Bucket’s everywhere on class – the idea that posh people bought them…if you want to do posh now it has to be spoofy and retro.’

In pop culture contexts posh has proved to be handy as an antonym of chav, especially in the numerous test-yourself quizzes in tabloids and online claiming to assess the underclass/toff-factor. From around 2000, ‘posho’ in UK campus slang has denoted a fellow-student perceived as from a wealthy or privileged background, while the litigious Victoria Beckham should note that in the same circles ‘Posh ‘n Becks’ is rhyming slang for sex.

Where accents are concerned the tide has seemed to flow in only one direction: in 2013 another broadcaster, the Radio 4 announcer Charlotte Green, accepted voluntary redundancy, declaring ‘received pronunciation, or accent-less accent [sic], is on the wane. The BBC’s days of employing people who sound like me are more or less over.’ She had once been voted the most attractive female voice on radio, that voice described as ‘a marvel, something to make one feel safe and secure, like being tucked up in bed with a hot water bottle.’ These days Cameron and Johnson play down their patrician tones to some extent, but fellow OE Jacob Rees Mogg incorporates a mannered, punctilious accent into his repertoire of self-presentation, adding to what the Sun terms ‘his ultra-posh exterior’ (the p-word is routinely applied to him by all sections of the media) and signalling to some the resurgence of a fogeyism that is either picturesque or (‘Please-Flog’ was one of the least offensive nicknames suggested in a Twitter poll) unsettlingly sinister.

 

Image result for boris johnson

EMOJI – one or two thoughts, and a source list

Image result for emoji evolution

I have been asked by students and colleagues to write, very belatedly perhaps, about emoji. While searching for something novel and meaningful to say about the phenomenon, and looking for a stance to adopt in the (sometimes tedious) ‘is/are emoji a language?’ debate, I thought I would share  some first thoughts and a list of references (a personal selection from the mass of material recently published), to provide a shortcut for anyone else studying the subject…

AN EMOJI TIMELINE

1964 – the smiley face 😊 symbol invented by Harvey Ross Ball

1982 – (11.44am, September 19) Scott Fahlman of Carnegie Mellon University in the USA posts the first emoticon:  : – )

1989 – Internet acronyms (such as LOL, LMAO, WTF), having appeared on message-boards and in chatrooms since the mid-80s, spread rapidly across the anglosphere via text-messaging and email

1991 – the Unicode Consortium is founded to develop universal standards for Internet text-processing

1998Shigetaka Kurita invents emoji (= ‘picture’ + ‘character’) with 176 examples

2010 – Unicode adopt emoji, add hundreds more 😈

2015 – Unicode 8.0 releases new emoji range with skin tones,

2017 – Facebook processes 6bn messages containing emoji

2018  – 2823 emoji have been approved so far

 

HOW DO EMOJI FUNCTION?

They insert punctuating ‘mood-breaks’ into conventional sentences😠 in a sort of ‘bimodal codeswitching’

They are to written communication what nonverbal cues – paralinguistic ‘phatic-communion’ (70% of emotion in real-life interactions is communicated nonverbally)– are to spoken communication, occupying the ‘space between word and gesture’, enabling ‘visual small-talk’

They are ‘tone-markers’, introducing irony, sarcasm and emotion/’emotivity’ to otherwise impoverished digital texts😍

They (like graffiti, memes, GIFs), exploit an inherent human need for ‘visuality’, along with a more recent requirement for empathy, cultural allusion, humour and positive play😎 to create a new hybrid or multimodal digital literacy

 

 DO EMOJI HAVE ANY LASTING SIGNIFICANCE?

Can a hybrid transnational code help to change consciousness?

Do emoji reinforce (hyper)individualism and the establishing of hyperlocal communities of practice/microniches/meganiches?

Or could emoji move us further towards a collective global intelligence, a ‘virtual communal brain’?

Are emoji ‘hegemonic’ in that they reinforce the priorities and power-relationships of consumer capitalism (they have after all already been appropriated by/commodified for marketing, advertising and manufacturing)?

Or are they ‘antihegemonic’/subversive in that they disrupt😈 traditional discourse, empower individuals and new collectivities?

Image result for protest emoji

One of the best histories and overviews of the subject was provided by WIRED magazine earlier this year:

https://www.wired.com/story/guide-emoji/

More recently, a comprehensive analysis of emoji as a crucial component of digital literacy:

View story at Medium.com

Dictionary.com now have a guide to possible meanings and uses of the most important emoji (click on each): 

https://www.dictionary.com/e/list/emoji/1/

…I’m intrigued by the ‘instabilities’ in emoji meaning and the fact that ’emoji dialects’ have been discerned:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3196583/Can-decipher-emoji-messages-Translators-11-regions-misunderstand-universal-symbols-hilarious-results.html

…and by such insights as these, from a feminist perspective, from Debbie Cameron:

https://debuk.wordpress.com/2017/09/10/are-women-over-emojinal/

…here’s a curiosity, on ‘professional emoji whisperer’ Rachael Tatman:

https://www.seattlemet.com/articles/2017/12/19/meet-rachael-tatman-professional-emoji-whisperer

…from 2018, the first article so far, in the Telegraph, to focus on the committee that chooses new emoji:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/controversial-characters-secretive-committee-choose-new-emojis/

…brands are using emoji on Twitter:

https://business.twitter.com/en/blog/creative-roundup-examples-of-brands-using-emojis-in-their-twitte.html?utm_medium=organic&utm_source=twitter

From February 2019, an unusually negative view on how emoji have mutated, by Ian Bogost:

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/02/how-new-emoji-are-changing-pictorial-language/582400/

…any new thoughts on emoji interpretation, or additional links would be gratefully received! Here are the remaining links from the past year:

http://ounews.co/arts-social-sciences/art-literature-music/what-emoji-can-teach-us-about-human-civilization/?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=SocialSignIn&utm_source=Twitter

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/25/books/review/wordplay-emoji-slang-puns-language.html?emc=edit_tnt_20170825&nlid=67701160&tntemail0=y

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tTXLuZHYf4&t=4s

 

 

http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2015/11/emoji-language/?__prclt=S8d1uceQ

 

 

https://www.languagemagazine.com/emojis-and-the-language-of-the-internet/

 

 

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-merperson-comes-to-emoji-1495808225

 

 

https://stronglang.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/the-whimsical-world-of-emoji-swearing/

 

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/emoji-taking-world/

 

 

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/tes-talks-vyvyan-evans

 

 

https://theconversation.com/why-decisions-on-emoji-design-should-be-made-more-inclusive-80912?utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Twitter#link_time=1500025713

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/audio/2017/jun/23/emoji-dr-vyvyan-evans-language-tech-podcast?CMP=share_btn_tw

 

 

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4545752/The-different-factors-influence-emoji-choice.html

 

 

https://phys.org/news/2017-05-linguistic-emojis.html

 

 

 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-04-07/how-emojis-can-help-children-learn-and-communicate/8425482?pfmredir=sm

 

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/14/fashion/grindr-gay-emoji-gaymoji-digital.html?_r=0

 

 

http://www.nowherethis.org/story/emoji-linguistics/

 

 

https://theconversation.com/signs-of-our-times-why-emoji-can-be-even-more-powerful-than-words-50893

 

 

https://rightsinfo.org/emoji-global-language-cultures-left/

 

 

emoji pillows

 

…in 2018, at long last, we gingers were validated:

https://www.yahoo.com/news/redheads-most-triumphant-reactions-getting-160249172.html?soc_src=hl-viewer&soc_trk=fb

…and here’s more on the 12.0 release upcoming in 2019:

https://www.standard.co.uk/tech/new-emojis-2019-how-to-use-a4061471.html

 

A footnote. US language specialist Ben Zimmer‘s son claims that this, the suspension railway, is the least used emoji:

🚟

The ‘M’ in ‘MLE’ – Youth Slang’s Origins

Much of the vocabulary of MLE, the speech variety known as Multiethnic or Multicultural London English, derives (not always straightforwardly) from Caribbean or Black British usages, or from London’s white ‘working class’, often dubbed ‘Cockney,’ argot. There are, however, a number of slang expressions, used in the school playground and on the street by younger speakers, which come from elsewhere in the UK’s language matrix, even from archaic or foreign sources. Here are some examples…

 

Image result for Multi Ethnic youth

 

Feen (n)

Means: a male person

Usage: “Who’s the feen over by the gate?”

The proper names for Yoofspeak, so linguists tell us, are MLE (multi-ethnic or multicultural London English) or UBE (urban British English, with ‘vernacular’ sometimes substituted for English), but not all playground language emanates from the larger cities and ethnic or ‘cultural’ doesn’t only mean Afrocarribean or Asian.

One term that’s widely used around the UK is rarely if ever heard in the Smoke, but belongs to a 300 year-old tradition. Feen, also spelled fein, has been borrowed from the slang of Travellers, the argot formerly used by Tinkers and known as Shelta, itself deriving mainly from Irish Gaelic. In Irish feen simply means “man” but in slang it sometimes has the extra senses of “stranger” or “rogue”. Don’t confuse this with the verb “to feen” (sometimes “feem”), a modern import from US street-talk, which is an alteration of ‘fiend’ and means craving for, or obsessing over, as in “I’m feenin’ for some weed” or “he’s feenin’ over that new girl.”

 Image result for laughter

 

Hollage (n)

 Means: something hilarious

 Usage: “Have you seen Charlotte’s latest outfit? Très hollage!”

 Posher teens have their own version of yoofspeak, their own mix of would-be street slang, babytalk and invented expressions, typically in the form of girly yells of approval (by both sexes) and squeals of delight (ditto).

When the denizens of the middle-class playground are trading witticisms a favourite trick is to insert touches of French – the odd real word (“quelle disaster”, “beaucoup trouble”) and Franglais pronunciations. “Rummage” (sex), and “bummage” (enthusiasm) have been frenchified, but current favourite is “hollage”, meaning huge amusement or hugely amusing, pronounced to rhyme with English “college” or like French “collage”, or, some young purists insist, as three-syllable “holla-age”.

It looks as if the little sophisticates have adapted “holla”, (the hip-hop version of “holler”, meaning to yell), one of cool Yoof’s iconic expressions from the noughties, and slightly misunderstood it in the process, since it originally described phoning, praising or seducing rather than braying with laughter. In the US the very similar-looking “holla-age” has indeed been used to describe “the appropriate way to acknowledge or compliment a female.”

Stupid Emoji Stickers

Dinlo (n)

Means: an idiot

Usage: “You can tell Callum anything and he’ll believe it, he’s a right dinlo.”

Some linguists are claiming that far from dying out, regional dialects – and that includes local slang terms – are being helped by messaging, chatting and tweeting on social media sites, as well as old-fashioned word of mouth – to spread further across the UK. A probable example of this is yet another term for a complete dope, or dupe, (in practice nearly always male) which originated in Romany (and not in Cantonese as claimed on Urban Dictionary) as dinilo and has long been in use from the New Forest, via Portsmouth’s ‘Pompey – slang’ to East Anglia. Dinlo(w) is the usual form, although “dinler”, “dindler” and “dingle” have also been recorded. Yoof elsewhere have now added these to their already rich lexicon of insults, sometimes abbreviating to “dinny” or just “din”.

 

Image result for exhausted teens

 

Trek (v,n)

Means: (to go on) a long and tedious journey

Usage: “Man we been trekkin’ for hours!” “From her endz to ours is a trek.”

Researchers into Yoofspeak will know that in nearly every batch of new expressions offered up as the latest teen lingo, there are one or two which are not really slang at all. This is because most of the younger generation are not familiar with them and don’t realise that they are standard English: also, to be fair, because they sound and look exotic, possibly subversive to the uninitiated. “Trek”, used more or less in its original sense is a popular feature of playground complaints – the moaners probably don’t know much Afrikaans (from which we got the word), and even Star Trek the Prequel is a distant memory. More recently the word, or the variant “treks!” can be an exclamation, declaring that something, not necessarily a journey, is too tiring or boring to bother with or to finish, but one post on Urban Dictionary defines it much more specifically – and perhaps just slightly more positively – as a “4-10-mile” walk undertaken to counteract the effects of drugs or alcohol.

Examples of the same phenomenon are “luka” or “lookah”, used by some London kids to mean money, which seems like Multiethnic dialect but is really the picturesque old phrase ‘filthy lucre’ after a makeover. (Oddly, in the US, the Slavonic boy’s name Luka seems to have been conflated with the colloquial “looker” to denote an attractive male.) “Burly”, which one user explained as a blend of “beautiful” and “gnarly”, expresses admiration for a tough-looking male, and “reek” as in “Ben’s room really reeks” is also considered a really cool novelty. (Incidentally and tangentially, adult informants tell me that for them “reek” mainly registers these days as the name of a character in TV fantasy Game of Thrones, or as a mistyping of ‘wreak.’)

 

(These terms were first recorded in my Youthspeak column in the TES)

 

SOUNDS, SENSITIVITIES – and CELLAR DOORS

Another extract from a work in progress, or, if that project comes to nothing, a fragment from a series of jottings (see elsewhere on this blog for others): either way, I keep returning to my fascination with the symbolic, psychological, psychic effects of  the sounds of words…

Image result for sweet talk

The traditional view of words and names is that, apart from those words that directly imitate natural noises, there is only an arbitrary link between sound and meaning. But a few psychologists and neuroscientists have claimed to find evidence that phonemes (the human speech sounds that constitute words) have an inherent, non-arbitrary emotional quality*. Their data suggests that the effect on feelings of certain phoneme combinations (nonsense examples they worked with included bupaba, which was received positively and dugada which was negatively perceived) depends on a specific acoustic feature which can be measured, namely, the dynamic shifts within the phonemes’ frequency.

At Laurentian University in Canada researchers examined the links between proper names and hearer’s emotions: The ten most popular boys’ and girls’ names for most years of the 20th century were studied in terms of the emotional associations of their sounds and their pronounceability. A set of historical and socioeconomic variables, namely, war, depression, the advent of the birth control pill, inflation, and year seemed to correspond with the scores that members of the public gave for name length, emotionality, and pronounceability.

At a more human level UK national treasure Stephen Fry tells us his favourite word is ‘moist’. He’s being arch and gently provocative as usual, but says that he just likes the sound of it. I have said that I find the sound of the word ‘mellifluous’ pleasant, but friends have told me they hear in it prissiness and fussiness. My own fondness for ‘buoyancy’, too has been a cause of bemusement for some.

Whether we are talking about ‘pure’ sounds that imitate the noises of nature like ‘plop’,  ‘buzz’ and ‘hum’ or the clusters of phonemes that form single words, or the longer more varied sequences of conversational noise, these acoustic disturbances are not just conveyors of information but can act as triggers provoking an emotional response in the hearer. How they do this depends on the associations they have for us and these may be intensely personal, may be social and cultural and may in many cases depend entirely on which language we are hearing and thinking in.

Hearing the slang word ‘chillax’ for the first time (it has now become fairly well-known, even embarrassingly part of the linguistic repertoire of a former PM) would probably have a different effect on a teenager, who might have recognised the blending of ‘chill out’ and ‘relax’ from a grandparent more likely to hear ‘chilly’ and ‘axe.’

The fact that our reaction to the sound of words is culturally conditioned and not simply ‘natural’ can be proved by asking people to listen to and comment on words that they aren’t familiar with; invented words or terms from an unknown language. The words sranje, mierda, hovno and mist don’t seem to upset English speakers who are exposed to them for the first time. They are all synonyms of English sh**t in not too distant languages: Slovene, Spanish, Czech and Danish respectively. An old friend from France used to complain that her word for dog, chien, sounded nothing like any of the animals of that species, whereas the English word, she thought, suited exactly.

When we move from words to longer examples of intonation, rhythm and pitch, it can be a mixture of supposed familiarity – we recognise the same sounds from a different context such as baby-talk or comic exaggeration – and unfamiliarity – we don’t know what it means –that leads us to find the sound of the Dutch language funny for example.

Where other accents – the regional British variants among them – are concerned, studies have found that people react positively or negatively first according to how closely the accent resembles their own and secondly to its associations, usually which prominent figures (typically actors, newsreaders, footballers) employ it and in which contexts it has been encountered (so a Northern Irish accent, once evoking the language of the Troubles is now, like the Scottish Connery lilt, linked to actors who charm and don’t threaten.)

Asked in 2008 to nominate his favourite word, then mayoral candidate and Tory MP Boris Johnson selected ‘carminative’, teasing both in its obscurity and in that the word formed from these four sonorous syllables denotes a cure for flatulence. Three quite different, and differently resonant, syllables were chosen by French artist Loris Gréaud as the title of his solo exhibition at London’s ICA, part of a large-scale experimental multi-media project dealing in the interplay between rumour and fact, in hidden meanings and in transitions and interruptions. It’s no coincidence that the London installation and the project itself go by the name of CELLAR DOOR. The coming together – not for the first time – of these two unremarkable English words is part of a curious sequence of borrowings and allusions, a sort of underground tradition or urban legend that Gréaud is just the latest to tap into.

It was J R R Tolkien in 1955 who first suggested that ‘cellar door’ was one of the most beautiful, if not the most affecting combination of sounds in the English language. He described the phrase on two occasions as being intrinsically inspiring, and since then a series of writers have used Tolkien’s cue to fabricate a quite spurious history of references to cellar door, according to which an American opinion poll, the author H.L.Mencken and various Chinese and Japanese visitors have all, apparently independently, pronounced it the most beautiful sound in English. The cult movie Donnie Darko popularised the idea for a pop culture audience, asserting that of all the endless combination of words in all of history, this was the most beautiful. The film script attributed the claim to ‘a famous linguist’, but the director Richard Kelly in subsequent interviews namechecked, quite wrongly, Edgar Allan Poe.

We can’t be sure of the personal and cultural associations, conscious or unconscious, that led Tolkien to favour this particular collection of phonemes, apart from ‘the door of the cellar’ there are no sound-alikes in English other than, and of course this might be significant, celadon, a colour which is apparently a sort of pale willowy green (and is named, curiously, after the shepherd hero of a 17th century French romance) and celandine, the French-sounding name of two different species of flower. It seems to be a prerequisite that cellar door is pronounced in a donnish British RP accent rather than in a provincial burr or North American twang; although for me, and perhaps for Tolkien, too, a Welsh lilt might help reinforce its quasi-mythic pretensions.

Celador isn’t Welsh but is a real word in Spanish: pronounced with initial ‘th’ in Castilian Spanish, with ‘ts’ in the Americas historically it means ‘guardian of the bedchamber’, nowadays more prosaically it denotes a hospital orderly, a classroom supervisor or sometimes a prison guard. Spanish and Latin American friends tell me that for them the sound of the word is as humdrum as its modern meaning: it has no special resonance for them.

Although one explanation of the origins of language, known as the bow-wow theory, holds that all words started out as imitations of sounds found in nature, it’s clear that by now, apart from the obviously onomatopoeic like splash and plash and smash, sound and sense have become quite disconnected. The word voted the most beautiful in a British Council survey in 2004 was ‘mother’, for most of us redolent of tenderness, but downbeat and abrupt in terms of its component sounds. Conversely and perversely James Joyce had earlier proposed ‘cuspidor’, a nice noise, but a nasty receptacle.

The notion, though, that the sounds of a word might evoke certain feelings in the hearer, quite independently of its literal meaning, is a commonsense one, and linguists know the phenomenon variously as phonaesthetics, psychoacoustics or sound symbolism. But these emotional or aesthetic effects are not consistent and vary quite unpredictably across cultures and even among speakers who share a common language. ‘Mist’ which seems pleasant on the ear, means ‘crap’ in other Northern European languages. Stephen Fry may like the word ‘moist’, but it ranks high in lists of people’s unfavourites (‘phlegm’ and ‘panties’ even higher) and a teenager told me the other day that it’s now the most horribly offensive thing you can say in London street slang.

Playing of course on its literal sense, but helped by its new status as a linguistic talisman ‘cellar door’ has been used as the name of a host of wine merchants, wine bars and wine magazines and of a slasher movie, too.  A café in Guernsey, a London cabaret venue, a Jazz band, an Indie band, a metal band, a literary magazine have all adopted the title: spelled as in Spanish it’s the name of a well-known TV production company: a novel printing typeface, Kellermeister, turns out to be inspired by it, and dozens of Internet blogs contrive to work the phrase in somewhere in their mashups.

Why is it that there seems to be this need for a mantra, a magic set of sounds that can be constantly reinvoked? Is it those phonemes: that front vowel, sibilant and lateral, along with the allusion to something always hidden just beyond our field of vision that combine to give cellar door its unique charm? Whatever lies behind it (pun intended), and however impressive Gréaud’s work actually is, I’m afraid that I’m quite immune to the two words in question: for me ‘seller’ only evokes the housing crisis at the time of writing, and door rhymes with ‘sore’, and ‘poor’ – and most tellingly of all – with ‘bore’.

 

* I have not yet had time to digest this very interesting paper from July 2017, but here is the link…

https://peerj.com/articles/3466/

 

Image result for listening