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Economic misery and environmental conscience, these were two of the more prominent themes of 2008. Now there’s a fresh new year ahead of us, and though it remains to be seen how it will unfold, there’s no doubt that there will be some feature of life in 2009 which stimulates our linguistic creativity. Whether it be at work or at play, there’ll be new issues and preoccupations for which we’ll need to create new language.
To whet our lexical appetites, let’s look back at the past year and take our traditional snapshot of how life in the 21st century caused a whole new crop of words and expressions to germinate . . .
If it’s been a bumper Christmas and you’ve lavished the latest technology on the ones you love, then as you start the New Year you could be contributing to the growing mountain of e-waste. Also known as electronic waste, this is the toxic waste generated by disposing of old mobile phones, computers, televisions etc. Such products contain dangerous metals like lead, cadmium and mercury, which can contaminate air and water when they are dumped. According to the UN, the world is currently producing between 20 and 50 million tonnes of e-waste per year. With the prospect of widespread switchover from analogue to digital TV signals in the near future, there’s potential for an e-waste explosion – what will we do with all those hundreds of thousands of ‘dead’ televisions?
‘Electronic waste, or e-waste, is a growing problem at college campuses across the nation. As more and more computers, printers, monitors, and other electronic items break down or become outmoded, questions often arise as to where to put this equipment, which often contains materials that are not biodegradable and sometimes toxic.’ (Pittsburgh Morning Sun, 23rd October 2008)
It’s a special February in 2008, the kind that only comes once every four years and ends with the bissext. Bissext? No, not some kind of celebration of sexual orientation, but rather, an under-used reference to plain old February 29th, more commonly described as a leap day. There’s also a related adjective, bissextile, so that for example 2012 could be described as the next bissextile year. People unfortunate enough to have a birthday on February 29th can be referred to as leaplings, united in 2008 through dedicated websites. Related coinages which get their four-yearly airing this month include the adjective leapless, which is used to describe someone not born on February 29th, the noun leapness, for the condition of being born on February 29th, and the noun leapship, referring to a relationship between two leaplings.
‘The Bissextile Beverage
Friday is Feb. 29, a day that doesn't exist three years in four. Rare as it is, the 29th is a fine day for having a celebratory drink. . . . About the last gasp for distinctively bissextile drinks was the ’70s. In Washington, a bar called My Mother's Place threw a 1972 Leap Year party featuring Mother's Leap cocktails.’ (The Wall Street Journal, 23rd February 2008)
‘For leaplings, people born on a leap year, this year was extra special. For, after four long years, they got to ring in their birthdays on the very day they were born – February 29. And, ironically, while everyone grows older with every birthday, leaplings don’t.’ (The Hindu, 1st March 2008)
Spring might be in the air, but economies on both sides of the Atlantic are far from blossoming at the end of the financial year. No expression sums up the zeitgeist of the months ahead better than the phrase credit crunch, first hitting the mainstream in August 2007 and gaining currency (excuse the pun!) with every week of 2008. A credit crunch is a sudden reduction in the availability of loans, or a sudden increase in the cost of borrowing, which causes economic activity to slow down (in layman’s terms, the less we can borrow, the less we spend). At the root of the 2008 credit crunch was a sustained period of risky lending, caricatured by the tongue-in-cheek coinage NINJA loan (NINJA is an acronym of No Income, No Job, no Assets, and refers to lending to borrowers likely to default on repayments). This resulted in losses for lending institutions and investors, and the repercussions for banks and major financial institutions escalated, reaching a crescendo later in the year (see the entry for September).
The expression credit crunch was actually coined more than 40 years ago, when it was used to describe a 1967 crisis on Wall Street. The use of the word crunch in the expression can be attributed to the famous British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who popularised crunch as a reference to ‘the sense of a critical point or crisis’ when he first used it in 1939.
‘Credit crunch sees holiday spend slashed
Fun and laughter will not be had by one in five Brits this year as the summer holiday emerges as one of the biggest victims of the UK credit crunch. . . Sean Gardner of MoneyExpert.com said: “The credit crunch is moving on from being something that just affects bankers to having real effects on real people in the real economy.”’ (Opodo Travel News, 31st March 2008)
A new 21st century affliction is announced this month, allegedly experienced by as many as 53% of us. Apparently, we have become so dependent on our mobile phones, that when we don’t have access to them, we experience acute anxiety and stress, a condition coined nomophobia. A contraction of no mobile phobia, nomophobia is triggered in a variety of ways – maybe we’ve forgotten our mobile, lost it, discovered it’s run out of charge or credit, or unexpectedly find ourselves in an area with no network coverage, damn it! Nomophobics (or nomophobes) are, it seems, a product of our 21st century always-on culture, where people feel the need to be constantly contactable by friends, family and work colleagues. Tips for avoiding nomophobia include keeping your credit topped up, carrying a charger at all times, and providing people with alternative contact numbers. A more drastic approach to avoiding a nomophobic lifestyle is to switch your phone off periodically, or - brace yourselves - to get rid of it!
‘I have wept over lost phones. I dropped my last one in the bath (don't ask), lovingly nursed it back to health and then almost had a breakdown when it died two days later. So I guess that makes me one of the 13 million Brits suffering from nomophobia (a fear of having no mobile). Apparently we have become so dependent on our mobiles that being separated from them can send our stress levels soaring.’ (The Mirror, UK, 1st April 2008)
Though bubbling under in British English since Autumn 2007, the term polyclinic hits the spotlight this month, when it is announced by the National Health Service that people are in favour of a polyclinic scheme for London. A polyclinic is a medical centre which, as well as offering the traditional services of a GP (family doctor), provides access to a wide range of health professionals. In a polyclinic patients might, for example, be able to see a consultant or psychiatrist, or undergo treatment normally associated with a hospital visit. Whilst welcomed by some as an opportunity to make medical care faster and more efficient in a non-hospitalised, community-based environment, the polyclinic is a controversial concept. Many fear that it will deprive hospitals of resources and lead to the closure of GP practices, meaning patients will have to travel further for care.
‘The NHS will today claim public support for a radical plan from Lord Darzi, the health minister, to amalgamate GP surgeries into polyclinics, each offering a range of services to about 50,000 patients.’ (The Guardian, 6th May 2008)
Late June and it’s Wimbledon again, but this year, Henmania has finally given way to Murraymania. Former British number one Tim Henman retired in September 2007, but the precedent he’d set for wordplay continued with Andy Murray, the new icon of British tennis. Fans were pinning their hopes on the increasingly impressive Scottish player – would this be the year? Henmaniacs were replaced by Murrymaniacs, occupying their seats on Murray Mound (the grassy bank formerly known as Henman Hill). As Murray made nail-biting progress through to the quarter final, yet another new word hit the spotlight: Andymonium, which can be loosely defined along the same lines as Murraymania, i.e. zealous support for the player. Despite this lexical productivity, 2008 wasn’t to be the year for Andy. Disappointed Murraymaniacs could, however, draw some comfort from up-and-coming player Laura Robson who, to the delight of British fans, won the girls’ singles title – could Murray Mound become Laura’s Ledge in years to come?
‘Andymonium grips the nation
Wimbledon tennis fans pose for pictures with a waxwork of British tennis player Andy Murray at Madame Tussauds in London. Murraymania hit new levels after he beat Frenchman Richard Gasquet on Monday, to book his place in his first quarter-final at Wimbledon.’ (Virgin Media News, 2nd July 2008)
If you’re a bit strapped for cash this month and can’t afford your usual two weeks in the sun, then why not join the ranks of those taking a staycation? A staycation is a holiday in which you stay at home and relax, or take day trips to local attractions; against a backdrop of escalating fuel prices and the credit crunch (see the entry for March), it’s become the ‘hottest’ holiday trend of 2008. As well as the obvious financial incentives, staycationers have the added bonus of access to home comforts, none of the stress associated with long-distance travel, and can win potential brownie points if they have a nagging environmental conscience.
Tips for a successful staycation include making definite plans for each day, just as you would for a conventional holiday (hence avoiding complete ‘sloth’ mode!) and viewing your home town as if you were a happy, carefree tourist, keen to exploit all its potential. In 2008, staycationers reportedly boosted local economies whilst visiting places not conventionally associated with summer tourism.
‘This year, for the first time since 1999 - when I bought a gilet, then instantly regretted it - I'm engaging in a fashion trend. I'm having 2008's ‘hottest holiday’ - a ‘staycation’. As written about in magazines, this staycation involves a resolution to eschew Disneyland, or Cornwall, and ‘holiday at home’ instead.’ (The Times, 11th August 2008)
August, and the 2008 Olympics are hosted in spectacular style by the Chinese. The phrase bird’s nest is no longer just the residence of a winged creature, but a metaphorical reference to an impressive 90,000-seater venue officially known as the Beijing National Stadium. Costing a massive 423 million US dollars, the Bird’s Nest has become the world’s largest steel structure. Its side-kick is the almost equally impressive Water Cube (Beijing National Aquatics Centre), a rectangular swimming complex clad with plastic pillows creating the effect of water bubbles. These two buildings formed the most recent examples of a trend labelled starchitecture, the creation of impressive structures which incorporate unique features and are highly visible within their location. Such iconic buildings are correspondingly the creations of starchitects, professionals epitomized by Lord Norman Foster, designer of the Swiss Re building (‘the Gherkin’) in central London. Another new architectural term reflecting the trend towards more adventurous design is the word blobitecture, which describes the creation of buildings with an organic, bulging form.
‘In the era of starchitecture, few projects pose more of a challenge to renowned architects than the scale and complexity of a city's crown jewel, the stadium . . . Tasked with designing Beijing National Stadium, the home base for the upcoming 2008 Summer Olympic Games, Herzog & de Mueron came up with this organized entanglement of 36km of steel, oftentimes dubbed a bird's nest.’ (www.coolhunting.com, 28th January 2008)
Banks and financial institutions had been credit crunching their way through the year, but this month falls firmly into the pit of what is now described as the global financial crisis. In Britain, the government announces its intention to nationalise Bradford & Bingley, making it the fourth major UK financial institution in the last year to either be rescued by the state or sold to a rival to prevent collapse. Over in the United States, there is economic meltdown, with the insolvency of financial giants such as Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual, and the nationalisation of mortgage lenders Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association) and Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation). Governments across the world are forced to respond, with similar rescue packages occurring in Iceland, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Suddenly the expression economic downturn is on everybody’s lips, and the financial lexicon goes mainstream. The adjective toxic is no longer primarily a descriptor of harmful substances, but regularly collocating with nouns such as debt, loan and asset, as a way of referring to those financial transactions which had brought institutions so perilously close to collapse.
‘World Bank slashes growth forecast amid global financial crisis
The World Bank on Tuesday lowered its growth forecast for the world economy to only one percent in 2009 due to the impacts of the global financial crisis . . . The revision was due to “a combination of financial turmoil, slower exports and weaker commodity prices.” ’ (China View, 12th November 2008)
‘British taxpayers will be liable for more than £150 billion of potentially toxic mortgage debt following the nationalisation of Bradford & Bingley, one of the country’s biggest mortgage lenders.’ (The Telegraph, 30th September 2008)
Does seeing a television left on standby make you feel anxious? Are you consumed with rage when someone in the family leaves an empty room with a light switched on? Or do you tremble at the sight of aluminium cans and plastic bottles being thrown into the general rubbish? If you can recognise these traits in yourself, then this month there’s a new word to describe your condition – you’re probably suffering from carborexia. Also called energy anorexia, this is the condition of being obsessed with minimising your use of carbon (or in other words, obsessed with minimising your lifestyle’s impact on the environment). Following the model of anorexia, and also the recent neologism tanorexia (an obsession with getting a sun tan) ‘sufferers’ of this condition are described as carborexic (compare, anorexic / tanorexic). US psychologists claim that extreme environmental awareness may be creating a generation of carborexics, warning that the behaviour of ‘hard-core’ recyclers and energy-savers could border on the obsessive-compulsive.
‘Dark Green ‘carborexics’: The obsessive generation of extreme environmental activists
A new survey claims that seven percent of Americans now qualify as “dark green”, hard core recyclers and carbon footprint worriers. But it is unclear whether some of their behaviour qualifies as eco-leadership or bordering on the obsessive-compulsive. A report in the New York Times found evidence of all manner of lifestyles that might be considered carborexic.’ (The Telegraph, 21st October 2008)
On 4th November 2008, history was made when African-American Barack Obama became the first black President of the United States. Underpinning Obama’s presidential campaign was a signature word which peppered every media reference to his rise to popularity – hope, and Obama himself was correspondingly labelled the hopemonger. By deliberately ironic analogy with nouns such as warmonger (a politician who actively encourages war), hopemonger emerged as a reference to a political leader advocating hope and a sense of optimism for a better future. Though initially seized upon by his critics as a way to highlight his perceived naivety, Obama turned the word hopemonger to his advantage, identifying with it and adopting it as the hallmark of his campaign. Media coverage of the presidential campaign also propagated the predictable bunch of ephemeral expressions, including Obamacon, describing Republican or conservative supporters of Obama, and Baracknophobia, an irrational fear of Obama and / or the idea that his idealistic policies have a hidden agenda (a play on the term arachnophobia, which describes the fear of spiders). Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether Obama’s hopemongering will become a reality, though nations across the world seem to have been captivated by Obamamania (zealous support for the president-elect).
‘There has never been a politician in any of our lifetimes, including any sitting president, who has been the draw that the hopemonger is’ (New York Magazine, 4th November 2008)
Nearly Christmas, and for many, the credit crunch has nibbled away at our festive budgets. Those of us wanting to look as glamorous at the office party as we did last year years, can join the ranks of the recessionistas, people who dress stylishly on a tight budget. (This word is a clever blend of recession and the noun fashionista, which was coined in the early ’90s to describe a person who wears fashionable clothing or works in the fashion industry.) Rather than shopping on Oxford Street, the recessionista swaps clothes with friends, or trawls the charity shops. Alternatively they might be an advocate of slow fashion, investing in pieces of clothing that will hopefully last a long time and might also appease their environmental / social conscience if they are made from locally-sourced or fairly-traded materials. Alternatively, if food’s your thing, but a trip to a restaurant or even a humble takeaway seems extravagant in these wallet-squeezing days, then you could try the more economical option of a fakeaway. A blend of fake and takeaway, this is a kind of ‘DIY’ takeaway meal which you make at home – open the fridge, pull out all those leftover bits of meat and veg, and rustle up a curry! In the ailing 2008 economic climate, major supermarkets in the UK reported increased sales of key fakeaway ingredients, such as curry paste and pre-prepared poppadoms. Chinese and Indian ready meals also grew in popularity, a lazier fakeaway option which still costs less than a conventional takeaway.
‘The credit crunch has put paid to high times on the high street, but retailers are reporting the rise of slow fashion as consumers think harder about what they buy. . . Internet fashion retailer Adili is at the forefront of the slow fashion movement. In fashion-speak, it sells products that are 'trans-seasonal' and made to be kept, with all materials organic, recycled or fair trade.’ (The Observer, 3rd August 2008)
‘FAKEAWAYS on the rise as spending on takeaways falls
Sainsbury’s reports the emergence of new DIY trend as Britain on a budget prepares fast food at home – with dramatic savings.’ (Twelve Thirty Eight, 17th July 2008)
Here’s to a very Happy 2009 . . .
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