Archive for the ‘Neologisms – new words and phrases’ Category
Where was I? Oh, yes: serendipity.
The Wordwatch Towers inbox has recently been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of an email asking me to explain the origins of this lovely word (which means making a happy and unexpected accidental discovery).
The butler (at a loose end since my reader Gladys went to Devon to help celebrate her sister’s 86th) immediately dusted down Oxford Dictionaries online and discovered a rather lovely snippet.
Walpole used the word serendipity in his correspondence, having based it on The Three Princes of Serendip, a Persian fairy tale (Horace called it ‘silly’) in which the heroes ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of’. You can read more about this on the Oxford Dictionaries blog.
Here comes the hmm … as you know, I am not one to nitpick (ahem), but there’s a first time for everything. The Oxford Dictionaries blog post referred to above describes the word serendipity as ‘wonderfully onomatopoeic’. Is it?
Doesn’t ‘onomatopoeic’ mean words like ‘buzz’ and ‘bang’ and hiss’ – words based on the sound they describe? Does serendipity sound like the – er – sound of happy chance discoveries? I don’t fink so.
I’m trying to describe Google+ to someone who’s not that au fait with the internet and social networking and all that jazz. Kind of a place where you meet people online and chat and do stuff. But not if you’re a dog called Vegas. Sorry, Vegas. You’re banned. Bad dog.
Now, where was I? Oh, yes, neologisms. Specifically, ‘nymwars’. Horrible, isn’t it? I didn’t know what it meant and had to look it up. And it’s all to do with the fact that Google+ has decided it likes being very bossy and strict and will only allow people to open an account if they use their real name. As Wikipedia explains, ‘nymwars’ refers to the conflict that has arisen over this policy. The word is derived from ‘pseudonym’, meaning a fictitious name.
It’s all a bit sinister and Orwellian. I’ve got a languishing Google+ account that I (ahem) may have opened under a false name*; apparently I get four days to ‘fess up and proclaim my real name to the world before I’m thrown out to join Vegas in the doghouse. Because pets are not allowed to have a Google+ account either (Vegas is specifically named and shamed on the Google+ verboten list); this is a ‘violation’ (blimey) along with – heaven forfend – opening an account as a couple. Nope, not even if you’re married. Step away from the keyboard. For shame. What were you thinking?
This is what Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, was thinking: “The Internet will work better if people know that you’re a real person rather than a fake person.”
Because people who give their real names are never fake. And a couple is a fake person. Eric said so.
Planet Weird AKA Google+ also offers, in its ‘game room’, the opportunity to ‘humiliate a pig, or just click wildly at anything that moves’. I’ve witnessed the latter, but it involved beer and a marked inability to pronounce a real name, let alone use one to open a Google+ account, so I can’t enlighten you further.
*Said for rhetorical effect. Not true at all. I would not dream of deceiving Eric.
I am the first to admit that I don’t have my finger on the pulse when it comes to neologisms. However, I’m sure my reader (Gladys) and her cat will forgive me if they have already heard this one. I recently came across it in the Guardian online:
The Tea Party movement is remarkable in two respects. It is one of the biggest exercises in false consciousness the world has seen – and the biggest Astroturf operation in history.
Interestingly, the writer, George Monbiot, finds it necessary to explain his use of the word ‘Astroturf’ (so I don’t have to):
An Astroturf campaign is a fake grassroots movement: it purports to be a spontaneous uprising of concerned citizens, but in reality it is founded and funded by élite interests. Some Astroturf campaigns have no grassroots component at all. Others catalyse and direct real mobilisations. The Tea Party belongs in the second category.
The inclusion of this explanation in the article raises an interesting question: is there any point in using an expression that your readers might not understand? I’d say no. And while we’re at it, what does ‘false consciousness’ actually mean? I don’t know why, but part of a Macbeth speech just popped into my mind: …full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Nothing new and trademarks
I’ve discovered that this use of the word ‘AstroTurf’ isn’t new, because it’s been listed on Urban Dictionary since 2004.
You’ll note that in the Guardian piece, ‘Astroturf’ is capitalised. This is a less than careful acknowledgement that the term is, in fact, a trademark. I say less than careful, because it should actually be written: ‘AstroTurf’.
Also (you can see I’m at a loose end today), ‘grassroots’ is listed as ‘grass roots’ in the Oxford Dictionary of English, or hyphenated when used as a modifier in such phrases as: ‘getting involved at grass-roots level’. I’ll go and get a life now.