Lamestreaming the English language

Once, you might have been stuck for the word to describe an unsightly tummy bulge protruding over low-rise jeans. But ‘muffin top” is one of hundreds of new words and phrases, along with ‘wag”, ‘size zero” and ‘hoodie”, that have entered the language and are listed in the Collins English Dictionary‘s 9th edition, published recently.

The new additions reflect the world’s growing obsession with advances in IT: apparently the ‘vlog” (an internet video journal), ‘blook” (a blog that becomes a book, or vice versa) and ‘mobcast” (an unholy aliance of podcast and cellphone) are mounting a determined challenge on the ‘lamestream” (traditional) media.

Unsurprisingly, a preoccupation with environmental issues is also reflected in a crop of new phrases such as ‘carbon footprint”, ‘carbon offsetting” and ‘season creep” (used to describe the changing length of the seasons thought to be caused by climate change). And we now apparently live in a world where people are ‘climate canaries”.

The ‘celebutantes”, young heiresses who morph into celebrities, may have had a hand in the inclusion of the term ‘size zero”, used to describe the much-derided super-skinny look.

The acronym ‘wag” (wives and girlfriends) finally makes it into the dictionary after a strong performance by the female intimates of the England football team during last year’s World Cup.

The male half of the population can be more accurately described thanks to the dictionary’s inclusion of ‘man flu”, the male tendency to exaggerate the effects of a cold, and ‘man bag”, the male version of the handbag.

The fast food chain McDonald’s may be wasting its time lobbying dictionary publishers to scrap the pejorative ‘McJob”, as a new word inspired by the chain has sneaked into the tome. A ‘McMansion” is a large, modern house with a mass-produced look.

The war on terror has engendered several new words such as ‘rendition” and ‘Londonistan”—a reference to the British capital being a base for radical Islamists. World events have had an impact too, with ‘Beslan” and ‘Gitmo”—slang for Guantanamo Bay—making it. ‘Waterboarding”, in these paranoid days, is not a new sport, but a form of torture.

And the developed world’s fixation with the body beautiful produces ‘body fascism”, usually directed at women, or women of a particular class; ‘camel toe” (‘the visual effect created when a woman’s trousers cling too tightly to the crotch, emphasising the shape of the pudenda”); ‘cankle” (‘a thickened area between the calf and ankle in an overweight person, obscuring where one ends and the other begins”), and ‘tanorexic” (‘obsessed with maintaining a permanent deep tan”).

Some words are lovely additions—particularly likeable is ‘whataboutery” (‘the practice of repeatedly blaming the other side”), and ‘silver”, which as a verb, means ‘to age”.

But other new entries just make you despair. Has it really been necessary to cultivate ‘masstige” (‘the impression of exclusivity in goods that are affordable for many”)? Or ‘preneed” (‘arranged or made available in advance of eventual requirements: preneed funeral arrangements”)? Now that’s a braai-stopper.

The shifts in the language are monitored through a 2,5-billion-word database gathered from newspapers, magazines, books, websites, and transcripts of radio and television programmes.—



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