Oxford Dictionaries add ‘clicktivism’ and ‘haterade’ as new words for angry times

Donald Trump’s presidency has already left its mark on the English language, according to lexicographers monitoring the most popular new vocabulary

 Social media are also thought to be drivers of the latest vocabulary … Donald J Trump at the opening of Trump Turnberry, his Ayrshire hotel and golf resort.

 Social media are also thought to be drivers of the latest vocabulary … Donald J Trump at the Grand Opening of Trump Turnberry, his Ayrshire hotel and golf resort.

Donald Trump’s linguistic dexterity may be questionable, but the US president’s lexicon has had an impact on the English language, which is reflected in the latest additions to oxforddictionaries.com, the online reference guide to current English. New coinages that reflect the latest wave of online political activism form a significant section of more than 300 new definitions in the database, which is a sister work to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Additions including “clicktivism” (a pejorative word for armchair activists on social media), “haterade” (excessive negativity, criticism, or resentment), “otherize” (view or treat – a person or group of people – as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself) and “herd mentality” (the tendency for people’s behaviour or beliefs to conform to those of the group to which they belong) all emerged during the 2016 battle for the White House, said head of content development Angus Stevenson.

“We are getting a convergence of high-level politics and online language in quite a new way,” Stevenson said. “We had all the words around Brexit in the last update and we are now starting to see all the words around Trump coming into the dictionary.”

Stevenson said that new terms from Trump, his supporters and opponents were emerging more rapidly than in the past. “We have lots to add all the time. We don’t have ‘fake news’ or ‘alternative fact’ this time, because they have just started gaining currency, but I am sure they will be in the next update,” he added.

As well as political terms, public conversations about diet, fitness and gender were a strong influence on the words included in the latest update. “Superfruit”, a nutrient-rich fruit considered to be especially beneficial for health and wellbeing; HIIT, the acronym for high-intensity interval training; and “third gender”, a category of people who do not identify simply as male or female, all made it into the online database.

Social media were the source for many of the new coinages, though most were the kind of compounds that would have language purists clutching their pearls. “Craptacular” (remarkably poor and disappointing), “bronde” (hair dyed both blond and brunette) and “fitspiration” (a person or thing that serves as motivation for someone to sustain or improve health and fitness) all made the cut.

Stevenson said the need for brevity on Twitter was not responsible for rising numbers of compound words, but it had widened the pool of those inventing new terms. “People feel much freer to coin their own words these days,” he said, advising anyone who wished to make a permanent dent in the English language to make sure that their word sounded attractive. Citing the word “vlog”, he said ugly-sounding words tended not to gain very wide currency. He added: “They have to have a euphonious sound.”

His favourite addition? “Aquafaba”: water in which chickpeas or other pulses have been cooked, used as a substitute for egg whites, particularly in vegan cooking. “As language nerds we were quite pleased by that because it is a compound of Latin words and sounds very nice,” he explained.


Falling in Love with Words: The Secret Life of a Lexicographer

Merriam-Webster lexicographer Kory Stamper describes how she fell in love with words and offers a peek into the complex process of making dictionaries.

We are in an uncomfortably small conference room. It is a cool June day, and though I am sitting stock-still on a corporate chair in heavy air-conditioning, I am sweating heavily through my dress. This is what I do in job interviews.

A month earlier, I had applied for a position at Merriam-Webster, America’s oldest dictionary company. The posting was for an editorial assistant, a bottom-of-the-barrel position, but I lit up like a penny arcade when I saw that the primary duty would be to write and edit English dictionaries. I cobbled together a résumé; I was invited to interview. I found the best interview outfit I could and applied extra antiperspirant (to no avail).Steve Perrault, the man who sat opposite me, was (and still is) the director of defining at Merriam-Webster and the person I hoped would be my boss. He was very tall and very quiet, a sloucher like me, and seemed almost as shyly awkward as I was, even while he gave me a tour of the modest, nearly silent editorial floor. Apparently, neither of us enjoyed job interviews. I, however, was the only one perspiring lavishly.

“So tell me,” he ventured, “why you are interested in lexicography.”

I took a deep breath and clamped my jaw shut so I did not start blabbing. This was a complicated answer.

Falling in Love with Words: The Secret Life of a Lexicographer

Is street slang affecting our children’s employment prospects?

It has been suggested that some people are unaware of the nuances that govern appropriate use of slang

Experts have voiced concern that the slang used by many young – and some not so young – people today is creating a negative impression that ruins their chances of getting a job.

Inappropriate usage

Social media, it has been argued, is responsible for the proliferation of what has been termed ‘multicultural English’ in everyday life. Words such as ‘innit’, ‘bruv’ and ‘bro’ are now being used not just with friends but also to communicate in general.

Some employers have reported receiving messages from applicants replete with slang and emojis; some have even been contacted over social media with friend requests. This immaturity has prompted concerns that young people today are leaving school with no life skills and a mindset that is setting them up for failure.

BAME unemployment

The concerns are particularly aimed at young people from BAME (black and minority ethnic) groups, which account for nine per cent of unemployment despite only making up three per cent of the population. Even more worryingly, there has been a 50 per cent increase in BAME youth unemployment since 2010.

One youth worker from East London has taken the bull by the horns and decided to launch her own campaign to teach young people appropriate workplace etiquette, including communication skills. We have all seen the adverts for the Barclays Skills for Life scheme, which supports young people from all backgrounds to learn the life skills they may have missed at home and school; now, Rianna Raymond-Williams has become a one-woman mission to extend this kind of initiative to reach certain communities that may be particularly at risk.

Combating disadvantage

Raymond-Williams’s extensive experience in youth work revealed not so much that young people in her area of London were unaware of how to behave appropriately in a professional context but that they did not deem it necessary. Raymond-Williams is setting out to change this attitude and to convince young people on a deep level that how they speak, dress and conduct themselves is critical to their future success.

Raymond-Williams’s scheme has its critics, of course. It has been denounced as anti-ethnic and anti-youth; however, the author has passionately defended her ideas, arguing that her motivation is solely to alleviate the very real disadvantages young urban people are facing in the employment arena.

Sociolinguistic debate

Professor Paul Kerswill of York University has also entered this debate, arguing that essentially language is fluid and evolving and that multicultural English may well reflect the shape of the future, with many young people setting up their own businesses using social media platforms. To remain relevant, employers need to develop sensitivity towards the use of multicultural English.

The crux of the issue is perhaps that all generations need to develop a greater awareness of linguistic appropriacy. Language is always evolving, of course; for example, many of Shakespeare’s slang words are now accepted as standard.

To stretch the Shakespeare comparison, different modes of speech were used depending upon context and people were easily able to segue between them. Perhaps we would do well to emulate that linguistic flux in our modern world.


The impact of Political Correctness on Language Change



  1. Whether we buy into Linguistic Determinism or Linguistic Reflectionism should make us decide on the usefulness of Political Correctness, and if we can change our language in order to change the way people see the world. Is this a change we should pursue? Either way, it has been a change pursued by society over the last 50 years. Whether we avoid words like “slag” and “slut” because we are no longer sexist, or whether we avoid them to avoid perpetuating negative stereotypes, the point is that there is a change happening here. It is patently disingenuous to even contend that that “slut” is falling out of use for the same reason as “jolly” as an adverb, or “hugger-mugger” (to act in a secretive manner): so what’s happening here? Just as Aitchison parodies prescriptivists as believing in the “Infectious Disease Syndrome”, as it implies that language change spreads like a disease, in that it is both bad and unconscious, we must accept that there is a deal of human agency involved here. People are taking control of their language, and more since the PC movement of the 1990s than ever before. Yes, people in Shakespeare’s time would have been just as likely to use euphemisms to avoid offence, eschewing direct reference to death, sex or using the toilet; however, the last generation or two has been deliberately taking on language, thereby speeding up such change. Words such as “spastic”, “retard” and “chink” are disappearing from our language more quickly now than ever before.
  1. If our language is merely a reflection of how we think, all efforts to change how we think by changing our language have been fruitless. Nonetheless, such efforts have been successful in changing our language, for example we no longer use “he” as the default pronoun, interchanging it with “she” or “they” because of the misguided belief that we had been perpetuating damaging stereotypes, namely that women weren’t or shouldn’t be involved in academia.


  1. The political correctness movement got up and going in the 1970s – and concerning the question of how language changes, this movement leads to some very interesting questions, the answers to which can tell us an awful lot about the processes behind language change


  1. Can we set up and carry through changes to the language we use? – i.e. has the political correctness movement had any quantifiable success? Or is our more tolerant language merely a reflection of our more tolerant society?


  1. Orwell, in “Politics and the English Language” shows how clichés undermine expression through misleading us: we are using someone else’s words, not expressing ourselves; if this is the case, getting rid of politically incorrect or otherwise harmful expressions, will enable us to avoid thinking racist, sexist or otherwise harmful thoughts.


  1. How can we affect the ways in which language has changed, is changing and will change in the future? If, as Orwell says in “Politics and the English Language” that the speaker is in danger of becoming a “machine” through using clichés, being mindful of these clichés such as “standing shoulder to shoulder” or “collateral damage” will enable us to improve our language- i.e. make us better able to genuinely express ourselves.


  1. To some extent in “Politics and the English Language” George Orwell marks himself out as a linguistic prescriptivist. If some language is worse than others, such as “the war on terror”, because of how it is used to mislead us, then language change can be bad (as well as good).


  1. If we can actually change language through conscious effort – should we? George Orwell in 1984 warned of the dangers of such a process. Warning of a dystopia where euphemism and banishing dangerous words control people’s thinking. When politicians speak of “pacification” rather than murdering villagers, we can see the dangers in language change.


  1. Should we allow language to change at all, regardless of the good intentions of those who seek to change it? In “Politics and the English Language” George Orwell said “the conscious action of a minority” can change our language. Stale metaphors such as “collateral damage” are bad, in the same way as politically incorrect terms such as “retard” and “bitch” are bad, so should we be consciously controlling language change?


  1. George Orwell seems to support the Strong Sapir Wharf Hypothesis, that language is “a prison house” for our thoughts; if this is the case, a change in our language can be either good or bad, leading to a better or a worse society.


  1. If we can in fact change our language and control that change, we can stop other changes happening to language, changes which we dislike; but are there such things as good and bad changes?


  1. The descriptivist approach to language change is to simply describe the current usage and make a note of how language changes – what might the stance of Jean Aitcheson or David Crystal be to consciously changing the language we use?


  1. Which politically correct terms have become established in the language we use today? What do these new words say about the PC project and about language change in general?


  1. Of the prescriptivist attitude to language change – the King Canute approach – if King Canute was given the ability not only to allay the advance of the tide (the prescriptivist hope) but to make it dance to his own tune, would he have done so?


  1. Guy Deutscher supports Roman Jakobson in arguing that if we don’t have a word for an idea, the concept is harder to deal with, for example “schadenfreude” in German: in English we can express this idea, however not as easily, showing that changing our language can affect how we think.


  1. Because the Tagalog language did not have words for blue and green until the Spanish colonisation it raises the question of whether language does, in some way, shape how we see the world: is there substance to the PC project? Should we be actively changing our language?


  1. Language doesn’t reflect our society in a straightforward way, but as Korzybski said, it contains “hidden traps that distort reality”: bearing this in mind, we should take the political correctness project seriously and actively seek to change our language.


  1. Roman Jakobson in 1959 suggested a more reasonable and plausible version of the Sapir Whorf hypothesis – that different languages lead us to speak of the same things in different ways. For example, French and Italian make us refer to a group of people as male even if they contain only one man in a group of one hundred: this is an example of a language leading us to prioritise men. If languages do this, there may be substance to the P C project: we can and should change our language.





The death of dialect? Don’t believe a word of it

British Library project preserves words used in different parts of the country. How many of them can you recognise?
Woman and man using dialect words
 Research shows people are most likely to use dialect in their playground years and again in their later years. 

Have you ever been called mardy, been mithered, complained of someone being nesh, labelled them a numpty or had people look at you blankly because a word you have used since childhood does not form part of their vocabulary?

If any of the above sounds familiar then congratulations: you are living proof that the death of dialect is greatly exaggerated.

Dialect has been mourned for a while now. It is well over 20 years since the term “estuary English” was first coined, while a more recent report concluded that “talking to machines and listening to Americans” could spell the death of regional accents and much-cherished dialect words within the next 50 years.

This fear does not, however, extend to the British Library where linguists continue to chronicle words used in different places and, where possible, preserve them by recording people using them.

Jonnie Robinson, lead curator of spoken English at the British Library and the author of the Evolving English WordBank, says the exercise – which saw ordinary people across the country “donate” words in special recording booths between 2010 and 2011 – proves that dialect words are far from being extinct.

“A lot of people feel dialect is dwindling but actually, although it’s changing … you can find examples of continuity,” Robinson says. The Evolving English WordBank contains 1,500 contributions to date, many of which are dialect words.

Some have shown incredible longevity. Robinson points to the word “puggle”, a word donated by a woman in Birmingham in 2010 which she defined as having “a poke about” or having “bit of of a look” for something.

“I don’t know where it comes from,” the well-spoken woman in her early 30s said in her contribution. “I always thought it was a real word and it turns out it’s not.”

Yet when Robinson looked into it he found puggle in the 19th-century English Dialect Dictionary, one of two major linguistic projects examining how geography and social class affects vocabulary (the other is The Survey of English Dialects, a collection of more than 1,300 words from 300 locations across England in the 1950s).

“The word puggle has been used in the home counties for at least 100 years,” Robinson says, “and here it is being used today, somewhat self-consciously, but used nonetheless by a middle-class young female in the south of England.”

Other submissions are instantly recognisable, either because they are still commonly used or because they have been popularised, or both. “Mardy” (meaning moody or irritable), a word chronicled more than a century ago, is still widely used in the north and Midlands of England. Its further popularisation through the Arctic Monkeys song Mardy Bum helped make it one of the most commonly donated words to the WordBank.

The collection also captures once common words that now survive in just a few geographical pockets. For example “owt” (meaning anything) was widespread in Old English. Now it only persists in certain areas in the north and Midlands, including Yorkshire.

Dialect words can be a way of establishing a person’s shared roots and the basis for unusual social bonds: one woman told the story of a work colleague who, on finding out she was from Grimsby, immediately asked if she knew what “spoggy” meant (chewing gum).

However, words are not necessarily unique to one location – dialect tends to turn up in different locations. A common example is that words and phrases that originated in Scotland often appear in Northern Ireland because of the strong historical connections between the two places.

So children are still being called “thrawn” (difficult or contrary) in Northern Ireland more than 500 years after its first documented use in the Oxford English Dictionary, while the same child might be told to “hold your whisht” (be quiet) over 200 years after Robert Burns used the line in verse.

Of course words do die. The distinguished linguist David Crystal has produced a book and websitechronicling disappearing words, while Bradwell Books’ county series of dialect glossaries features many old word forms that are no longer with us.

Robinson is not blind to the evolution of language, but he does not believe that younger generations not using the words their parents or grandparents did spells the end of dialect.

“It’s very easy to pick up a dialect glossary of the 1950s, give it to a group of teenagers and say: ‘How many of these words from your town do you know?’ Many teenagers might not know them but that would have been the case if you had carried out the same exercise in the 1960s. Language is constantly changing.”

Research shows people are most likely to use dialect in their formative, playground years and again in their later years once they have left the professional sphere. This is partly because, in the work environment, people tend to gravitate to a “very mainstream vocabulary” to ensure they are understood.

He says the growing tendency for people to grow up in one area, then move to another for educational purposes and somewhere different for work also has an impact. “The fact is that people now encounter different social groups and we operate across those dialectal boundaries,” he says.

“But go to a pub where a group of people who all grew up in that town are out and having a non-self-conscious conversation among themselves [and] you’ll capture dialect,” he says, adding that this in itself is evidence that helps unpick the “urban myth that we are all beginning to sound the same”.

What’s the difference between dialect, accent, slang and nonce words?

There is a difference between dialect and accent. “Any word can be pronounced in a number of different ways,” Robinson says, using two versions of the word bath, first with a short flat “a” more common to the north of England and then the more elongated “a” used in London. “Dialect,” Robinson explains, “is an umbrella term for words, pronunciation and grammar whereas accent is simply pronunciation.”

The words that were deposited in the British Library’s WordBank were not only diverse in meaning but in type. Some were nonce words, most typically made-up words whose meaning is recognised by family members but that are not in wider use.

Other people shared slang, which Robinson defines as words used within a particular social or interest group, such as among friends or, for example, in the military.

Dialect, lastly, is words particular to a location or locations.



6 Finnish Terms You’ll Want to Use in English, in Emoji Form


In late 2015, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland introduced a series of national emojisthat celebrate all aspects of Finnish identity. The first images included Nokia phones, metal heads (Finns famously love the loud music), and naked figures in a sauna. Since then, the Ministry has added new emojis to the collection, including a few illustrating uniquely Finnish terms that we don’t have words for in English. Try using some of them in conversation—and to view and download the whole set of 56 emoji, visit thisisFINLAND, the Finnish government’s promotional website.


The word quite literally (and delightfully) translates to “underwear drunk.”


You’d say “Torilla tavataan!“—which literally means “Let’s meet/see you at the marketplace”—to friends if you wanted to gather together in your city’s public square and celebrate good news—say, your local sports team winning.


Finland is home to Nokia, the Angry Birds Land theme park, and even Santa Claus, but the tiny nation still feels like it doesn’t get much international recognition. Suomi mainittu—which literally translates to “Finland mentioned!”—captures the excitement Finns feel when their country is discussed abroad.


Perkele translates to “the devil,” but like many swear words, it’s not what it means—it’s how you use it. Try rolling the “r” for extra emphasis.


Sisu can loosely be translated to “perseverance” or “having guts,” but the word has a deeper meaning in Finland. “The Finns have something they call sisu,” The New York Times wrote in 1940 [PDF]. “It is a compound of bravado and bravery, of ferocity and tenacity, of the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit, and to fight with the will to win. The Finns translate ‘sisu’ as ‘the Finnish spirit,’ but it is a much more gutful word than that.”


Finns use kaamos to describe the sunless period between December and January. Even though we don’t experience polar nights in America, we can still relate with the gloomy feeling of summer being too far away.


What Does ‘Soever’ Mean, Anyway?

And when did you last use ‘whomsoever’?

Pity the -soever words. The ebb and flow of linguistic fashion has turned against most of them, like the fins on a 50s Chevrolet. Or, perhaps more accurately: like the fancy round collars called ruffs worn in the early 1600s, the moment in time when such words were at their most popular. It’s clear that trimming the language of unnecessary words is one sign of mature writing; we all know that style guides emphasize clarity and directness. Wasted words, like wasted syllables, make for bloated prose. Needless syllables are easy to drop.
Words ending in ‘-soever’ are like the enormous ruffs popular in the early 1600s: they’re impressive, but will almost always seem formal or anachronistic.

But, back when fancy-sounding rhetorical flourish held a greater degree of prestige than it does today—a time, it may be noted, that predates both near-universal literacy and the proliferation of style guides and dictionaries—longer words may have sounded impressive and served a purpose.

It all started with soever, a compound of the adverbs so and ever that dates to Old English in the 12th century. Together they mean “to any possible or known extent” and sound distinctly old-fashioned:

how fair soever she may be the most selfish soever in this world

But another meaning of soever caught on: “of any or every kind that may be specified”:

gives no information soever

Sir Thomas Malory used it in the 1400s in his setting of the Arthurian legends, Le Morte d’Arthur:

What cause soever ye had, said Arthur

This use became an intensifier used as a suffix meaning “any out of all possible or conceivable” when added to the interrogative words who, what, where, when, and how. The extra syllables can sometimes add rhetorical emphasis in addition to specific meaning, as they do for words like utmost and superannuated.

The two oldest of these compounds are familiar ones: whosoever and whatsoever, both dating to the 13th century. Howsoever followed in the 14th century. These words have triple forms that show little difference in meaning, indicating that emphasis is one of the main reasons that -soever was added:




Whosoever was used in the King James Bible:

And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

More recent translations use whoever or everyone in this sentence. Whomsoever is still in use, but usually in very formal official language or deliberately archaic writing. The standard press release issued by the UN Security Council following terrorist attacks includes this sentence:

The members of the Security Council reiterated that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed.

Whomsoever was occasionally used in Merriam-Webster definitions until Webster’s Third Unabridged in 1961, at which point they had all dropped from the text of the definitions.

Whatsoever is the most common of these words in contemporary English. It was also used in the King James Bible, where it was sometimes separated (a process linguists call tmesis):

And what saddle soever he rideth upon

What thing soever I command you

And what children soever they found

This archaic-sounding separation was also occasionally done with other compounds:

how many soever they be

Howsoever is still in use, and gives writing an official or legal tone. It was sometimes extended by a single letter to howsomever, used by Shakespeare in All’s Well That Ends Well:

howsome’er their hearts are severed in religion

Whensoever has been used as both a conjunction (“whensoever you feel the need to return”) or as an adverb, a use labeled obsolete in the dictionary. It’s used this way in Hamlet:

I am constant to my purposes; they follow the King’s pleasure. If his fitness speaks, mine is ready; now or whensoever, provided I be so able as now.

These words are sometimes used today by writers who are trying really hard to make convincing use of the language of another time:

Fighter of weaklings and braggarts like thyself, whensoever a true knight face thee, thou runs away.
—John Ringo, There Will Be Dragons, 2004

There’s a limit to how much the addition of letters or syllables adds to the prestige of these words, however: whensomever is labeled “now dialectal or vulgar” in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Whence means “from what place, source, or cause,” and sounds archaic in any context in contemporary English. From it were derived whencever and whencesoever, words that you might encounter in literature of centuries past.

Another word that always sounds archaic today is whither, meaning “to what place.” Whithersoever is a synonym of wheresoever. Whitherto is considered obsolete, but, sure enough -soever was attached to form whithertosoever. (In dictionaries, archaic refers to words that are still encountered but always sound old-fashioned, like thee and thou, whereas obsolete words have not been used for more than 250 years.) Examples of these words in use come from this passage from a religious treatise published in 1634, nearly the all-time peak of use for -soever words:

And surely that which Gregory affirmes of the Angells truely; That they runne as it were within God and in God, whithertosoever they are sent, may also be truely affirmed of the glorified Saints, wheretosoever they roule, and wheresoever they abide; they abide in God and roulle in God.
—Richard Sheldon, Mans Last End, 1634

The weight of history also can weigh down good writing, so you may want to rethink your choice of words, howsomever and whensoever you use one of these words yourself.


The world’s smallest language has only 100 words — and you can say almost anything

ces china newspapersThere are over 100,000 characters in Mandarin Chinese, how could a language exist with only 123? 

In Chinese, the word computer translates directly as electric brain.

In Icelandic, a compass is a direction-shower, and a microscope a small-watcher.

In Lakota, horse is literally dog of wonder.

These neologisms demonstrate the cumulative quality of language, in which we use the known to describe the unknown.

“It is by metaphor that language grows,” writes the psychologist Julian Jaynes. “The common reply to the question ‘What is it?’ is, when the reply is difficult or the experience unique, ‘Well, it is like —.’”

That metaphorical process is at the heart of Toki Pona, the world’s smallest language. While the Oxford English Dictionary contains a quarter of a million entries, and even Koko the gorilla communicates with over 1,000 gestures in American Sign Language, the total vocabulary of Toki Pona is a mere 123 words.

Yet, as the creator Sonja Lang and many other Toki Pona speakers insist, it is enough to express almost any idea. This economy of form is accomplished by reducing symbolic thought to its most basic elements, merging related concepts, and having single words perform multiple functions of speech.

In contrast to the hundreds or thousands of study hours required to attain fluency in other languages, a general consensus among Toki Pona speakers is that it takes about 30 hours to master. That ease of acquisition, many of them believe, makes it an ideal international auxiliary language—the realization of an ancient dream to return humanity to a pre-Babel unity. Toki Pona serves that function already for hundreds of enthusiasts connected via online communities in countries as diverse as Japan, Belgium, New Zealand, and Argentina.

In addition to making Toki Pona simple to learn, the language’s minimalist approach is also designed to change how its speakers think. The paucity of terms provokes a kind of creative circumlocution that requires careful attention to detail. An avoidance of set phrases keeps the process fluid. The result, according to Lang, is to immerse the speaker in the moment, in a state reminiscent of what Zen Buddhists call mindfulness.

Screen Shot 2015 07 16 at 4.40.43 PMThe humble, minimal homepage of TokiPona.org Tokipona.org

“What is a car?” Lang mused recently via phone from her home in Toronto.

“You might say that a car is a space that’s used for movement,” she proposed. “That would be tomo tawa. If you’re struck by a car though, it might be a hard object that’s hitting me. That’s kiwen utala.”

The real question is: What is a car to you?

As with most things in Toki Pona, the answer is relative.

“We wear many hats in life,” Lang continued, “One moment I might be a sister, the next moment a worker, or a writer. Things change and we have to adapt.”

The language’s dependence on subjectivity and context is also an exercise in perspective-taking. “You have to consider your interlocutor’s way of understanding the world, or situation,” the Polish citizen Marta Krzeminska stated. “For that reason, I think it has great potential for bringing people together.”

To create her new language, Lang worked backwards—against the trend of a natural lexicon. She began by reducing and consolidating the specific into the general.

colors powder pigmentEnglish attempts to describe the diversity of color with intense verbiage, creating a different name for virtually every hue. 

“I think colors are a good example,” she offered. “You have millions of shades that are slightly different from one another, and at some point someone says, ‘Well, from here to here is blue, and from here to here is green.’ There are these arbitrary lines that people agree on.”

Toki Pona has a five-color palette: loje (red), laso (blue), jelo (yellow), pimeja (black), and walo (white). Like a painter, the speaker can combine them to achieve any hue on the spectrum. Loje walo for pink. Laso jelo for green.

Numbers are also minimal. Lang initially only had words for one (wan), two (tu), and several (mute). Many Toki Pona speakers have expanded the word luka (hand or arm) to mean five, and mute to mean 10. The terms are repeated additively until the desired number is reached.

“There are some mathematician-like people who insist that they want to be able to say 7,422.7,” Lang laughed. “I say, ‘That’s not exactly the point.’”

“What would it have been like to be a person in nature, interacting with things in a primitive way?”
The point is simplicity. And in Toki Pona, simple is literally good. Both concepts are combined in a single word: pona.

“If you can express yourself in a simple way,” Lang explained, “then you really understand what you’re talking about, and that’s good. If something is too complicated, that’s bad. You’re putting too much noise into the equation. That belief is kind of hardwired into the language.”

pi math numbersMath is its own language, Toki Pona attempts something different.

The polyglot Christopher Huff agreed, noting that Toki Pona had made him more honest. “I’m more comfortable now with the things I don’t know.”

“I didn’t realize how complex other languages are until I started speaking Toki Pona,” Krzeminska added. “There are so many different things you have to say before you actually get to say what you want, and there are so many things you’re not allowed to say even though you mean them.

Take politeness markers for instance: If it’s not too much of an inconvenience, would you please consider possibly bringing me a cup of coffee? In Toki Pona you would just say: Give me coffee. Either do it or don’t do it. There’s no word for please or thank you. I mean, maybe if you really wanted, you could say pona, but then why would you overuse a word that’s so big and powerful?”

Ultimately though, as many Toki Pona users discover, powerful cultural conventions are not so easily discarded. Speakers are often quick to find clever substitutes, especially in the realm of the non-verbal. “I definitely find myself relying more on body language,” Krzeminska admitted. “We’re so used to saying please and thank you that we tend to do a little Japanese-style nod now instead. It’s so weird not to say anything at all.”

Despite compromises in etiquette, Toki Pona still manages to convey a culture of its own. Through omission and inclusion, the vocabulary itself is rooted in the basic material of life. “I was inspired by hunter-gatherers,” Lang noted. “I thought, what would it have been like to just be a person in nature, interacting with things in a primitive way?”

Accordingly, there are several words denoting different living organisms, and none for specific modern technologies. All technology is essentially subsumed by the general term for tool (ilo) and augmented, if desired, by other words describing distinct functions. Addressing this choice, Huff spoke of a divide in the Toki Pona community. “There is one spirit that says Toki Pona is able to talk about these things, so we should talk about these things. There is another spirit that says maybe there are things we just don’t need to talk about.”

Apple Samsung phones iphone galaxy note 4 edgeTo discuss the differences between smartphones, Toki Pona may not be the best language. 

Along with the previously noted biases, the lexicon also exhibits an acknowledged propensity for positivity. Krzeminska, who speaks the language with her best friend, noted that they tend to slip into Toki Pona for pleasant conversations. “That’s one of Sonja’s principles. It’s a language for cute and nice things. It’s also great for talking about feelings. There are limited concepts, so one word can mean everything. The word pona is everything that’s good in the world: pineapples, bananas, cute kittens. If I call my friend a jan pona, I’m calling him a good person. Often, if we’re both tired and everything is too much, we just say, everything will be pona. You’re a beautiful person, and everything is beautiful, and everything will be beautiful. And then, everything is better.”

For a different perspective, I spoke with John Quijada, the creator of Ithkuil. The former DMV employee spent three decades perfecting what he calls, “an idealized language whose aim is the highest possible degree of logic, efficiency, detail, and accuracy in cognitive expression.” By combining 58 phonemes within an exacting grammatical framework, Ithkuil is designed to precisely express all possible human thoughts. It is so complex that even its creator often requires 10 minutes or more to assemble a single word.

Aistlaţervièllîmļ, for example, is the term for “a situation where one lets a normally unavailable opportunity pass by because it is not seen as being the optimal instance or form of that opportunity, despite the likelihood that such an optimal instance/form of the opportunity will likely never come (e.g., letting a bottle of expensive wine go past its prime because one can never decide when would be the optimal time to drink it; or letting slip by an opportunity for true love because one hopes someone even ‘better’ may come along.)”

Screen Shot 2015 07 16 at 4.50.52 PMThe wordier, more technical and complex homepage of Ithkuil. Ithkuil.net

“I have a great deal of respect for ambiguity. That’s why I tried to defeat it.”One student of the language claimed that it allowed her to “see things that exist but don’t have names, in the same way that Mendeleyev’s periodic table showed gaps where we knew elements should be that had yet to be discovered.” Tweak a single phoneme and arrive at a strange new variation of a thought. Tweak by tweak, a speaker could wander forever through an endless landscape of unique thoughts in a kind of linguistic dérive.

I was curious about what a man who had dedicated his life to accuracy thought about a language in which a word for floor (anpa) also means defeat, and the noun for head (lawa) is also the verb for control.

“I’ve always been so fascinated by ambiguity,” Quijada admitted. “I have a great deal of respect for it. That’s one of the reasons why I tried to defeat it—to see if it could be defeated.”

As for the disparity between Toki Pona and Ithkuil, the music-lover was predictably succinct. “It’s the difference between John Cage’s 4’33” and a Beethoven symphony.”


So, let’s bid farewell to 2016’s most annoying and overused word

‘So, we undertook this research and we discovered the following…’

farage-victory.jpgIn 2016, the redundant use of the word “so” has infiltrated politics, celebrity and the media

Goodbye to 2016 and hopefully we can bid good riddance to the most annoying word in the English language, a short tag which serves absolutely no function except to illustrate the linguistic shortcomings of the speaker in question.

I refer to the word “so” used at the beginning of a sentence, as in, “So, the government has decided…”, or “So, we undertook this research and discovered the following….”

In the past year, “so” dumped at the start of any sentence has become a blight which now afflicts politicians, official spokespeople, news reporters and social commentators. Not to mention all people under the age of 40 discussing anything from shopping to sports results. In any one day I reckon you will hear a redundant “so” many thousands of times, replacing “to be honest” or “like” and “it is what it is” as the most annoying verbal tic ever.

This inappropriate and superfluous use of “so” is said to have been started by inarticulate Silicon Valley techies, more used to tapping keyboards than holding meaningful face-to-face conversations. Back in 2014, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg managed to use the word “so’” FOUR times in one answer during an interview with the New York Times. Techies use the word to buy time and pretend that they are filling us in with a detailed explanation and including us in their world, whereas the opposite is generally true.

Some academics claim that so is a sign our language is becoming friendlier, but I disagree. “So” signals that our vocabulary is inexorably shrinking and become threadbare.

The only positive thing you can say about Donald Trump is that he speaks in short sentences, rarely using words of more than two syllables at a time. He is too old to have been afflicted by the So Bug. In 2017, please try to wean yourself off the S-word.

Janet Street-Porter  – http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/so-lets-bid-farewell-to-2016s-most-annoying-and-overused-word-a7501991.html

Gubbins and mosey: Eight old words and their meanings

What’s a gubbins? What is your dander, when it’s up? And what could it possibly mean if somebody asked you what you’re having for your snap?

Michael Rosen and linguist Esther Asprey have been answering questions about the origins of old words and phrases. They have come up with a few surprises along the way…

1. Gubbins

“It’s not working because the gubbins have fallen out.”

Do you get some funny looks when you use the word gubbins? Well, it means bits and pieces, or paraphernalia.

It comes from an old French word for a bite of food or a piece of something. When the word crossed over to use in English language it was translated as ‘gob’ associated with the mouth.

2. Mosey

“To mosey along…” Or, “Come on, get a mosey on!”

Quite a strange word because it can mean to go slowly or to hurry up. It has two polar-opposites in the dictionary.

When it originally appeared around 1836 in a public ledger it was a verb meaning to go away quickly. The leisurely version of the word surfaced later around 1960.

3. Snap

“What are you having for your snap?”

Snap stands for your dinner! As featured in D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, snap was a word that originally came from mining.

Miners used to take a tin box down into the mines with their food in it. The sound of the tin snapping open and shut led to the meal itself being referred to as snap.

4. Dander

“Ooh me dander’s up!”

What on earth is your dander when it’s at home? Well, it’s an expression that means you’re cross. But why?

It was a word first seen in writing in America, 1831. Dander stood for dandruff. So when your dander’s up it means you’re so angry it’s brought the dandruff off your scalp! Not too different from raising somebody’s hackles.

5. Like a house on fire

“They’re getting on like a house on fire.”

This is a curious phrase – for something that’s so positive in meaning, the phrase has got very negative connotations.

It’s a powerfully bad image that came from the days when people’s houses were made of wood and burnt very quickly. People like to play with words and the reason for its popularity over the years is probably down to the irony in the phrase.

6. Mardy

“Don’t be mardy!”

The Sheffield band the Arctic Monkeys are partly to thank for the resurgence of this word thanks to their song ‘Mardy Bum’. Young people all over the country have picked up the word that stands for a grumpy person.

Mardy was originally recorded in Sheffield and Yorkshire in the 1890s. The idea came from a marred, or spoilt, child, who would then misbehave and be grumpy and sulky.

7. Bone to pick

“I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”

Similar to a ‘bone of contention’. This phrase has a long history in English language, going right back to 1565. The first source recorded the term as: “A bone for YOU to pick on.” So it was something for you to sort out, not the other way around as it’s now used.

It’s thought that the phrase comes from Latin origins, translated by members of the religious profession into English. This is because many of the first known records of the phrase were written by clergymen.

8. Twitten

“You need to go down the twitten.”

A twitten doesn’t have anything to do with social media. It’s an alleyway.

There’s a manuscript printed in 1831 in local Sussex dialect which says that a twitten is the word for a narrow path between two walls or hedges. It is a regional version of betwixt or between, but used as a noun.