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Neologisms then and now

Barbara McClintock
(Language Update, Volume 9, Number 2, 2012, page 8)

What the dickens?

Charles Dickens, a huge influence on English literature with his memorable characters and classic stories, was a larger-than-life character himself. His work reflected life in nineteenth-century England. Driven to be successful, he not only churned out huge books but went on extensive speaking tours throughout North America, which today would be called book tours. He successfully argued for stronger copyright laws when publishers blatantly copied his work. In his World Wide Words newsletter of February 4, 2012, Michael Quinion discusses the many words and phrases invented or made popular by Charles Dickens, including butter-fingers, sawbones, messiness, whizz-bang, seediness, unpromisingly, flummox, tousled, kibosh and devil-may-care. According to Quinion, Dickens’s work was marked by his use of new and evocative compound adjectives that distilled a thought—angry-eyed, hunger-worn, proud-stomached, fancy-dressed, coffee-imbibing and ginger-beery—as well as compound nouns, such as copying-clerk and crossing-sweeper.1

Words of the year from down under

The Macquarie Dictionary’s Australian Word of the Year for 2011 is burquini or burkini. The burquini, a blend of the words burqa and bikini, is the very concealing swimsuit designed for Muslim women. The Australian People’s Choice Award went to fracking (fracturation in French), a shortening of fracturing. Michael Quinion writes in World Wide Words that a report by Jonathan Fahey of the Associated Press said that the oil and gas industry prefers frac and fraccing and argues that the “k” was added by opponents to suggest the violent connotations of words such as smack and whack.2 No comment!

The Australian word of the year for 2010 was googlegänger, or googleganger, an interesting term for a person with the same name as oneself, whose online references are mixed with the search results for one’s own name. It is a portmanteau derived from the German word doppelgänger.

The Word Geek’s word of the year for 2011: game changer (adj. game-changing)

Game changer is my personal word of the year, because it was everywhere in 2011. A game changer is a new factor that will change the outcome of something. In French, some possible ways of rendering this expression are facteur de changement, changer la donne, changer les règles du jeu and novateur.

The Oxford English Dictionary online defines the noun as “an event, idea or procedure that effects a significant shift in the current way of doing or thinking about something….”3 However, according to popular usage, as confirmed by Investopedia, a game changer is also “a person who is a visionary or a company that alters its business strategy and conceives an entirely new business plan.”4 This is why we see such phrases in the news as “Obama is a game changer” and “an industry game changer.”

The origin of the i-prefix

Ben Zimmer posted a fascinating article about the “insanely great language” of Steve Jobs in Visual Thesaurus.5 It was Jobs who came up with the name Apple—previously associated with Beatles’ magic—when he co-founded the Apple Company in 1976 with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne. The famous Apple logo with a bite taken out of it is a visual pun (byte). Macintosh refers to the McIntosh apple, but with a different spelling because the name was already used by another business. Zimmer says that Ken  Segall worked for an ad agency hired to help relaunch Apple, which had fallen on hard times. Segall suggested the name “iMac.” The “i” primarily refers to Internet, but also to individual, instruct, inform, inspire and the personal pronoun. The “i” prefix was then applied to Apple’s other products. The rest is history.

Notes