The most noteworthy news of the week is that Collins Dictionary came out with what it regards are the top 10 words of the year, saying they reflect the state of the world at the moment. It does not make happy reading.
Topping the list is a new word “permacrisis” which hardly needs any explanation. It is officially defined as “an extended period of instability and insecurity” which is hard to argue with considering what’s been going on. Collins states the word “sums up quite succinctly how truly awful 2022 has been for so many people”.
So it’s official — 2022 has been an annus horribilis.
The remaining words on the list are hardly encouraging either and include “Partygate” a painful reminder for anyone who follows British politics. Then there is “sportswashing” officially known as “the sponsorship or promotion of sporting events to enhance a tarnished reputation”.
Some of the words may require a little explanation. “Lawfare” is “the use or abuse of legal powers to silence opponents” which sounds a bit intimidating. Another which has been particularly noticeable in Britain lately is “quiet quitting” which basically means doing the minimum amount of work required, but just enough to avoid getting the sack.
Also making the list is Kyiv which doesn’t really require any explanation in that the Ukraine capital has been in just about every news bulletin for the past eight months.
So like it or not, it looks like we are back into Keep Calm and Carry On territory.
Pet lovers will be pleased to learn that one of the few non-depressing words that made the Collins top 10 is “splooting”. This is when dogs and cats lie flat on their stomach with their legs stretched out behind them. It is particularly prevalent in hot climes and with rising temperatures throughout the world more and more pets are taking to splooting, preferably in a cool spot.
My dog is a dedicated splooter and woe betide anyone who dares to disturb him when he’s having a quiet sploot. I’ve tried splooting myself but it’s rather uncomfortable for us two legged creatures.
In other words
I recall one word of the year which created bit of a stir 10 years ago was “omnishambles” which the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) selected back in 2012. It was defined as “a situation that had been comprehensively mismanaged, characterised by a string of blunders and miscalculations”. Actually “omnishambles” could equally apply to the current year. It can also be a rather useful word in Scrabble.
At the time some argued that the word “shambles” was sufficient without the “omni” prefix. Other words which carry the same message with equal effect suggested by those who are not too fussy about their language are “cock-up” and “balls up”.
In 2016 the OED word of the year was “post-truth” meaning circumstances “when objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to personal emotions and beliefs”.
In other words, it doesn’t matter if something is not true, it’s okay just as long you want to believe it. It’s an all too accurate reflection of the times and first surfaced during the 2016 US presidential election.
“Truth” has always been one of the most abused words in the dictionary and has certainly taken a pummeling in recent years. As the age-old old saying goes: “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth has put its boots on.”
But before we get too self-righteous we should perhaps consider the observation by HL Mencken: “It is hard to believe a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.”
There are always new words surfacing in the ever evolving English language, not always for the better. One word of the year that has lasted the pace is the 2013 winner “selfie” which has become totally immersed into everyday English language.
While it is always healthy to have new words appearing, “selfie” is a rather uncomfortable reflection of the growing narcissism in society, people seemingly obsessed with taking photographs of themselves.
The word is believed to have first surfaced in 2002 when a young Australian man posted a blurred photo of himself with a cut lip after a drunken fall. He posted the message: “Sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”
So we have the Aussies to blame for what has become one of the most frequently used words in the world today.
Yesterday was Bonfire night in England, although Nov 5 is celebrated in a more subdued form than when I was a child. This is partly due to fire regulations which though necessary have put a damper on Guy Fawkes Day.
Perhaps more importantly Nov 5 is a bit too close to Halloween which has become much more popular in Britain than when I was a kid. In fact if anyone had knocked on our door and asked “trick or treat?” I wouldn’t have known what they were talking about.
In the 1950s and 60s just about every other house had their own bonfire party in the back garden. I remember the thrill of reading those scary instructions on the fireworks of “light blue touch paper and retire”. That sent a real shiver of anticipation down the spine.