Omnishambles, smirting and amazeballs: we should embrace new words, even if they are ridiculous
With Collins inviting the public to submit entries for its latest dictionary last week, new words – or neologisms – are a hot topic at the moment. This year has been a particularly fertile one for them, starting in April with Ed Milliband’s use of omnishambles in Prime Minister’s Question Time. Since then there seems to have been an unstoppable barrage of newly-minted and mostly annoying items of vocabulary.
One of the more annoying examples has come from Geordie Shore, which gave us the concept of tash-on (or kissing to non-residents of the north east). Also the blogosphere (a neologism itself) has gifted us the term amazeballs to describe our unfettered sense of wonderment at Kim Kardashian’s new shoes. Finally the world of fashion has delivered up the utterly unnecessary concepts of mantyhose, manscara and manlashes, all of which are new accessories for the more metrosexually (there goes another one) inclined male.
Annoying they might be, but neologisms are nothing new. Our language is not some divine set of lexical commandments that we are only now beginning to profane. The creation of new vocabulary is as old as language itself. The greatest single creator of neologisms in the history of English is William Shakespeare, who was writing at a time – more than 400 years ago – when our language was undergoing a transition from Middle English to Modern English and as such was even more fluid and malleable than it is today.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary over 2,200 words are neologisms from Shakespeare, some 50% of which are still in use today. Examples of Shakespearian inventions are frugal, horrid and obscene. Shakespeare also played with existing language, combining words into new compounds like bloodstained and barefaced, turning verbs into nouns and adding prefixes to create new meanings such as unlock and unhand.
The case of Shakespeare highlights a rich source of new words: literature. A vast store of our modern lexicon comes from writers of various eras and styles. Defunct, clumsy, explain, and robot are just a few examples. The titles of books themselves can become neologisms. Take Catch 22 for example. Even the authors of works have given their names to new terms. Witness Orwellian from George Orwell; sadism and sadistic from the Marquis de Sade or Machiavellian from the Italian political philosopher Machiavelli.
With new discoveries new words must be coined and science is a rich seam of such nuggets. X-ray, black hole and Internet being just a few well-known examples. Of course when science fact catches up with science fiction, experts often find the words they need already invented by their literary forebears. Cyberspace, hyperspace and phaser are all words that science fiction gifted to the language.
Politics too is a word generator, not just by popularising little-known phrases from sitcoms, as in the case of Ed Milliband, but by creating new words to make political points and focus political causes. Genocide, political correctness and homophobia are all terms coined with a political or sociological purpose.
As the breadth and range of our media has increased, so too have the sources of new words. They now come from TV, radio and film as well as literature. American Pie popularised the acronym milf, which until recently in my innocent mind stood for Mature Independent Lady-Friend (I have since been disabused of my innocence in this regard). TV programmes have given us countless new words from the highbrow omnishambles of The Thick of It to the decidedly less so clunge of The Inbetweeners. Even cartoons are getting in on the act. The Simpsons alone has provided us with Homer’s doltish d’oh! and Bart’s apathetic meh.
Of course the explosion of social media over the last couple of decades has intensified and accelerated the creation of new words and phrases. The 21st century really has seen a baby boom of new language as different cultures interact and cross-pollinate.
In his book The Wonder of Whiffling, Adam Jacot de Boinod lists some of the best creations of the century so far. Some of my favourites of which are: cuddle puddle, a term for a heap of exhausted ravers; smirting, smoking and flirting while confined to an outside smoking area; Picasso porn, the interfered signal of a porn channel seen by those without a subscription; nom de womb, the name of an unborn baby; and menoporsche, for the desperate middle-aged purchase of a sports car.
So where will language take us in the future? What will be the omnishambles grenade hurled into next year’s Prime Minister’s Question Time, or next decade’s? What will be the bromance of 2050? We just don’t know and it is absolutely impossible for us to guess. That is the beauty of language and of the minds and cultures that produce it – its sheer bolt-from-the-blue unpredictability and originality.
It’s easy to scoff at such terms as chillax and legbomb but we shouldn’t do so. We should celebrate them instead for the vibrant, pulsating ingenuity they represent. They are the products of language, living and breathing and recreating in front of our very eyes. They are the manifestation of humanity’s instinctive need to create new things, and as such they are truly amazeballs.Tagged in: amazeballs, david cameron, dictionary, english langauge, new words, omnishambles, Oxford English Dictionary, question time, Shakespeare
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