Recessionista: not the ‘Millionth English word’

Today’s Word of the Day is inspired by the item on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, where this morning there was a discussion about whether the ‘Millionth English word’ will be coined today. You can read about this and hear the discussion on the BBC site.

Global Language Monitor declared the millionth word would be ‘Web 2.0’ – but we already know that one, don’t we? So I’ve picked on another word thrown out during the discussion:


Wikipedia defines this as ‘a blend of the words Fashionista and recession that describes a person who strives to remain fashionable on a minimal budget’. You can find its use tracked on Word Spy and find a fully-fledged article in The New York Times for 24 October 2008.

Stories are easy, sentences are hard

That, roughly, was what James Patterson said on last night’s edition of The Verb, Ian McMillan’s always entertaining discourse on matters literary on BBC Radio 3. Fortunately I had timed the washing up to catch Patterson’s thoughts on writing, though this also meant I couldn’t capture his exact words because my hands were in the sink. Still, if phenomenally successful ‘commercial writer’ (as he modestly described himself) finds sentence-level work harder than creating block-buster plots, where does that leave all the carefully-structured word, sentence and text level work in the literacy strategies?

Just where they were, I suppose.

(And, yes, I could listen again online to The Verb to discover Patterson’s exact words – but hey, sentences are hard and it’s easier to tell you to that yourselves. You’ll enjoy it.)

It’s a bearpark out there

British Association of Private Security Companies is led by Bearpark. But not in one.

‘Andrew Bearpark, director general of the British Association of Private Security Companies, said he was in favour of self-regulation. But he has raised the prospect of an international code of conduct.’ Soberly thus, today’s Guardian reports how the Foreign Office proposes self-regulation for private military firms. It is somehow fitting that the leader of these ‘private military companies, some of which have been engaged in highly controversial activities’ (as the paper also notes) should be called Bearpark, even though he doubtless denies that they ever behave as if they were in one. Looking up this article online, I discovered from an item on 16 June 2007 that Andrew Bearpark was ‘probably the Coalition Provisional Authority’s central British figure’ in the US-led administration set up to run Iraq following the invasion in 2003. He described Britain as ‘being complicit in Iraq’s current position as a failed state due to its the failure to prepare a postwar plan.’ So he clearly knows how a bearpark looks and behaves.

Still, we must not jump to conclusions about the meaning of names. Another article informs us that ‘Bearpark comes from “beau” park, “beautiful” park’. Unfortunately, it also tells us that Bearpark (two miles outside the fair city of Durham) ‘is hideous’. Let us hope that both Iraq and Bearpark, Durham, have more beautiful futures.


Differences between American and British coinage.

Today’s Word of the Day is shill. You may not find this in a British English dictionary, but the American journalist Michael Tomasky wrote in his Guardian blog post yesterday:

“Listen up. I am not a shill!!”

The Oxford English Dictionary does list the word in Tomasky’s sense of ‘a decoy or accomplice, esp. one posing as an enthusiastic or successful customer to encourage other buyers, gamblers, etc,’ which it dates to 1916. It adds, from 1976, ‘One who poses as a disinterested advocate of another but is actually of the latter’s party; a mouthpiece, a stooge’. The usage is described as ‘slang (chiefly N. Amer.), [Origin unknown.]’

Interestingly, Tomasky later uses the verb shilling – what kind of a coinage is that?

Taxonomy, tax avoidance and banned words

Banned words and secret tax documents make uneasy companions

Today’s Word of the Day, taxonomy, is hastily rescued from the ‘banned jargon list’ before it disappears.

The BBC site has an article about council leaders’ ‘banned list of the 200 worst uses of jargon’. A Plain English Campaign spokeswoman said: ‘Churchill and Einstein were both plain speakers and they did OK.’ So the theory or relativity is plain English, then? Odd, too, that quantum is on the ‘worst offenders’ list.

I console myself that my concerns about the loss of, inter alia, symposium and pathfinder may be misplaced. After all, the mighty Barclays Bank (have they banned apostrophes?) has been granted an injunction (councils note: ‘gagging order’ to be used in future) to remove documents about its tax affairs from the Guardian site. Only 127 people had, the paper reports, accessed the documents before they were removed at 2.30 am yesterday. Yet these same papers are now available elsewhere on the Internet in seconds by searching for something like ‘Barclays tax avoidance secret documents’ (though all references to this are immediately removed from the paper’s discussion threads, so don’t say I told you). So it looks as though ‘coterminosity’ will be at least as safe as a banker’s bonus.

Have a profitable and jargon-free day – even the taxonomists amongst you!

A livingstone, I presume?

A brand new coinage from Chris Warren

Today’s offering from Word of the Day is a present from my esteemed friend and learned colleague Chris Warren – a brand new coinage, no less. We therefore break our usual custom and provide guidance on its meaning and usage, as you will not find this word in dictionaries – yet:


First, please notice the lack of an initial capital letter. This is not the Livingstone daisy, nor does it refer to the Scottish missionary and explorer of Africa – though it does derive from the latter. A livingstone is a missing file, originally a word processor file or ‘lost doc’ (as in: “I’m suffering from a livingstone since that hard disc crash”). It is possible to predict that this will lead to the finding of the same becoming known as a stanley (‘Ah! I’ve found the lost doc! “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”‘).

Readers of a linguistic bent (aren’t we all bent a little that way?) will recognise that this word is in the class that includes three which featured in Word of the Day earlier this month: hoover, dewar and newton. These are names which have lost their initial capital letters. It seems, according to Wikipedia, that these are capitonyms: ‘A capitonym is a word that changes its meaning (and sometimes pronunciation) when it is capitalized.’

After this lengthy and (we hope you’ll agree) special Word of the Day, the service will be taking a whole week’s rest whilst we roam. Or, to capitalise it: Rome. If you’d like to receive a copy of the (more or less) daily email, please visit the Word of the Day page.

Hard-earned clichés

There’s a cliché crisis

It's a sign - of some kind...A writer to The Guardian worried about the linguistic backwash from the roller-coaster ride in the financial markets. Subsequent correspondence proved, as might be expected, that Guardian readers have readily rallied to the cause:

I notice that there a world shortage of clichés that could see the media teetering on the edge of a black hole tsunami. Is it time for a government injection of new metaphors to stop the drought?
Adrian Greeman 14 October 2008

Adrian Greeman is so right. We need to go back to basics; clichés need to be sexed up 24/7 to win hearts and minds. This government’s lack of action beggars belief.
Adele Zaslawska 16 October 2008

Government hand-outs of taxpayers’ hard-earned clichés (Letters, October 14) will only further dilute international metaphor reserves. Provision of “meltdowns” from the private sector has already reached an eye-watering number.
Henry Fryer 18 October 2008

Gabbling on

Gibble Gabble: giving airy nothings a local habitationYes, there really is a place called Gibble Gabble. More accurately, it’s a street – or, more accurately still, a ginnel. Collins Dictionary defines this as ‘Northern English dialect’ (but you knew that, didn’t you?): ‘a narrow passageway between buildings’. Gibble GabbleWhich is pretty well what Gibble Gabble is – a twisting cobbled path running up a steep slope in the old mill village of Broadbottom. But how did it acquire its delightful name (Gibble Gabble, that is, not Broadbottom)? From the noise made by millworkers streaming down the hill to Sidebottom’s mill, the clattering of their clogs drowned by their loud Lancashire laughs? Happen, lass, that’s how it were….

But wait: my friend Jim, brought up in Tintwistle (or ‘Tinsle’ as the locals call it) has just told me that his mother calls a ginnel a ‘gibble gabble’. This seems to be localised to Mottram and Broadbottom; even in Tintwistle they use the term ‘ginnel’ (pronouncing it with either a soft of hard ‘g’). So calling the ginnel Gibble Gabble is rather like naming your road ‘Street’. Ay, there’s nowt so queer as folk: it’s no coincidence that Vivienne Westwood comes from Tintwistle, after all.

Of course, I’m just makin’ this up and gabbling on about nowt. If tha’ wants to find out about Broadbottom proper, like, tha’s best ignore me and tak a look at the Broadbottom History Project Website. Where you’ll not be assailed by fake Lancashire accents, either.

Taking it too literally?

Use and abuse of the word ‘literally’

BBC correspondent David Willey reported on the Today programme this morning that the Pope had met a group of men and women ‘whose lives have literally been destroyed’ by abuse in the Catholic Church. This took place in ‘the residence of the Papal Nuncio in Washington’ which is not, I understand, in the afterlife (‘that undiscovered country’, etc). David Willey was therefore stretching the definition of ‘destroyed’, surely, to add ‘literally’ as an intensifier? (If you’re quick, you can hear him for yourself here.) Continue reading “Taking it too literally?”

The orthographic conscience has been awakened – and it’s on a mission

Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL) is on a mission across the United States: could it happen here?

Alerted by Andrew Mueller’s own blog in The Guardian today, I’ve been delighted to discover that there’s a Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL) in the United States. Furthermore, they are not content to sigh over greengrocers’ apostrophes or groan over bad grammar – they are crossing America from West to East, equipped with marker pens, stickers, white-out and a zeal to remove every aberrant apostrophe and correct every misspelling. They seemed to be having some success: on 11 April, for example, they report on their Typo Hunt Across America blog: ‘Typos Found: 170; Typos Corrected: 100’. Continue reading “The orthographic conscience has been awakened – and it’s on a mission”