Dictionaries have been changing rapidly over the last few years. Instead of just defining words and periodically publishing new editions of their dictionaries, the companies are now deploying sophisticated technologies like word bots (or internet “robots”) that scour the web to monitor how frequently words are being used, as well as new words that are emerging. The results of their monitoring are posted on their sites.
It’s also that time of the year again when dictionary publishers release their word of the year choices, based on the internet monitoring. Because English has become the global lingua franca, it’s the English words of the year that get the most publicity, reflecting global trends in people’s concerns.
Probably the most anticipated among the words of the year is the Oxford English Dictionary’s choice, which last year was “post-truth” (its press releases were issued early in November 2016). I’m also waiting for the Macquarie Dictionary’s choice. Last year it picked “fake news,” which I feel is more widely used than “post-truth.” Moreover, “fake news” has taken a linguistic twist, used now more often as an accusation. And ironically, the ones who most frequently produce and disseminate fake news seem to be the ones who also like to label truthful news as “fake news.”
Both Oxford and Macquarie seem to have been delayed this year with their choices, but two others have announced their picks, both as politically loaded as “post-truth.” Cambridge chose “populism,” and dictionary.com picked “complicit.”
Reading about Cambridge’s choice, I decided to look as well at its “new words” section. These new words are important because they can become candidates for word of the year. An example is “mansplaining,” which the Australian Macquarie Dictionary chose as its word of the year in 2014, barely five years after it was first identified as being used. The term, derived from “man” and “explaining,” refers to men’s tendency to be condescending in the way they explain something to women.
Cambridge’s new words for 2017 mostly fall into three categories: demographic generations, food, and gender, again telling us about the times we live in.
There were three terms that are demographic labels for generations. One is “xennials,” very specific for people born between 1977 and 1983, and said to be less cynical than “Generation X” but less optimistic than “millennials.”
There’s “linkster,” defined as “someone born after the year 2002” and said to be “linked” to technology since birth. Then there’s “perennial,” or “a middle-aged woman whose behavior, interest and attitudes are traditionally thought to be those of younger women.” It is meant to be a compliment for women who are curious about the world, and are socially involved. I thought it was a nice term borrowed from botany and referring to plants that keep flowering year after year, different from annuals that bloom and then die out.
Gender continues to be a focus of our times, as reflected in new words like “femoir” (“a book or other piece of writing based on a female writer’s personal knowledge and experiences, written from a feminist viewpoint”), “manel” (a panel made up solely of men), “manfant” (an adult male who behaves like a young child), “manosphere” (a loose network of websites, blogs and online forums on issues related to men and masculinity, normally with an antifeminist perspective). None of these words are being used yet in the Philippines as far as I can tell, even if many of us are tormented by manfants.
The largest category of new words is related to foods, newly concocted and mostly experimental hybrids, including transcultural ones like “crotilla” (croissant and tortilla). If you’re starting a new restaurant, look up these new concoctions: mermaid toast, bubble waffle, rainbow croissant, cloud eggs, and snackadium.
The proliferation of new foods probably reflects the way we are so compelled to try to feel good. Beyond eating, we also do things to the body, producing such new words as “heartilage” piercing, done on “the cartilage of the top of the ear [for a] heart-shaped earring.” Somewhat related would be a helix tattoo, done on the top of the outer ridge of the ear or the upper-outer curve, which anatomists call a helix. (It’s also an acupuncture point, so I’m wondering if heartilage piercing and helix tattoos might be stimulating a feel-good spot.)
I was amused by “shuber,” which is “a shoe, usually one with a very high heel,” that leaves you so uncomfortable you decide to take a taxi or an Uber.
Many of us have probably been taking a painless route: dopamine dressing, which involves “wearing brightly colored, relaxed clothes in order to be happier.”
Now to the two words of the year that have so far been announced, both reflective of grim times.
“Populism” was Cambridge’s choice for word of the year: “political ideas and activities that are intended to get the support of ordinary people by giving what they want.” It’s a negative term, referring to a popular ploy rather than an act of genuine concern. We’ve seen, though, how populist promises did result in an epidemic where some of the lowest forms of life were elected into the highest offices in the land during the last two years.
Dictionary.com had a different word of the year, based on the words most searched through its online dictionary. For 2017, it’s “complicit.”I did a Google Translate English to Filipino search and it gave me… “complicit,” meaning Google couldn’t find an equivalent word. But let’s look at how dictionary.com defines complicit: “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having partnership or involvement in wrongdoing.” Dictionary.com notes that in 2017, the search for the meaning of “complicit” spiked on March 12 when the TV show “Saturday Night Live” spoofed Ivanka Trump, daughter of the US president, by having her promote a (fake) perfume called Complicit as “the fragrance for the woman who could stop all this, but won’t”—a growing frustration with the first daughter for not speaking out about her increasingly unpopular father.
Searches for “complicit” spiked again on April 5 when Ivanka Trump was interviewed on CBS about this “complicit’ accusation and she responded: “If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I’m complicit.”
I think the Filipino “kasabwat” comes close to “complicit.” Some of you might object to looking at “kasabwat” in terms of conspirators—the kind that populist leaders get all paranoid about, suspecting plots left and right, as in yellows and reds. But many times in our
history, we’ve seen how terrible leaders stay in power more because
people decide to be content consoling themselves with dopamine dressing (including Ivanka Trump clothing) and rationalizing that it’s better this way, playing safe, maybe even arguing that this is
doing good. To stay quiet and uninvolved is, I feel, being complicit, too, and being “kasabwat.”
Words, food, for thought about our nation, especially yesterday being Bonifacio Day.
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