From austerity to refugee: the words that defined 2015, part two
In late December, we took a look at satire, transgender, and other words that defined the first six months of 2015. Here’s the second and final part of our end-of-year roundup.
The ongoing drama of the troubled Greek economy entered its final phase in the month of July this year when the governing Syriza party reached an agreement on the conditions of a third bailout programme with the so-called Troika of the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Eurogroup. The tense negotiations between the two partners received extensive coverage in the international press, and there was one slogan associated with the Greek financial crisis that stood out in particular: austerity.
The word came into English via Middle French austerité, which was originally defined in the context of religious practice as ‘severity, harshness, asceticism’ and, more specifically, as ‘self-mortification’. When applied to a person, austerité was used in the sense ‘sternness of manner, mercilessness’. Those definitions emerged in the 13th century; in the 16th century they were joined by the meanings ‘(of a landscape) bleakness, roughness’ and ‘(of flavour) astringency’.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) dates the first occurrence of austerity with the sense ‘restraint in public spending’ to the late 1930s. The term apparently entered common use in 1942, and, according to the OED, ‘was frequently used in the context of rationing and other measures introduced by governments in the period during and after the Second World War’.
But austerity was not the only word of linguistic interest produced by Greece’s financial woes. There was, of course, the ubiquitous Grexit, which was added to OxfordDictionaries.com in the August 2015 new words update. In the same month, our guest blogger Vasiliki Koui also explored the Greek origins of Europe, economy, and other terms surrounding the country’s economic crisis.
Originally regarded as a fringe candidate, British politician Jeremy Corbyn was elected Leader of the Labour Party on 12 September 2015. His astonishing rise from outsider to favourite in the leadership campaign was accompanied by lively discussions in the British media about Corbyn’s political standing as well as his very own brand of economic measures, aptly titled Corbynomics. The term was picked up by several media outlets within the UK, but has presumably not caught on in other parts of the world given its particular British focus.
Like Grexit and dressgate, Corbynomics is a portmanteau, a popular method of forming new words by combing existing material. But what exactly are Corbynomics? The word has not yet gained enough traction to be included in Oxford Dictionaries, but according to The Economist, Corbyn’s economic policies include introducing a ‘maximum wage’, nationalizing energy companies, and printing money to boost public investment.
By the beginning of September, the refugee crisis had already been going on for well over a year. But it was the photograph of the lifeless body of three-year old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi lying on a Greek beach that revealed, for the first time, the full extent of the human tragedy unfolding at Europe’s shores and put a face to the human plight of the Syrian refugees.
Following the publication of the image, mentions of refugee picked up in the English-speaking press, and in the UK, a debate broke out about the difference in meaning between refugee and migrant.
In the dictionary, migrant is defined as ‘a person who moves from one place to another in order to find work or better living conditions’, while a refugee is ‘a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster’. The latter was partly formed within English, from the verb refuge and the suffix –ee, modelled after French refugié. It is also partly directly derived from this French term meaning ‘gone in search of refuge’.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, a refugee was a Protestant who fled France to seek refuge elsewhere from religious persecution. The OED lists another definition specific to a historic event: during the American Revolutionary War, refugee was defined as ‘a member of a group of guerrilla fighters active in support of the British cause, especially in New York, and nominally affiliated with the Tories’. In this sense, they were apparently so called because many supporters of the British in New York were refugees from other parts of America.
Now, it is important to note that the term refugee also has a legal dimension, and being denoted as such gives a person certain rights under international law. The full definition was laid out in Article 1 of the 1951 Geneva Convention, later revised in the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, which can be read on the website of the UNHCR.
The word refugee also made the shortlist for our Word of the Year in 2015.
Apple releasing their new batch of emojis in October got a lot of people really excited. The announcement came only a few months after emoji was declared to be the fastest growing language in the UK. Indeed, it was basically impossible to escape those small digital images this year, which was part of the reason why we awarded ???? with the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year title.
Although the emoji’s popularity has been increasing rapidly for years, reaching a temporary peak in 2015, the word itself has been around for almost two decades. According to the OED, emoji made its first appearance in English in a Nikkei Weekly article in October 1997.
The noun emoji combines the Japanese form e for ‘picture’ and moji for ‘letter, character’. Mobile technology business SwiftKey identified the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ as the most popular emoji of 2015, making up 20% of all the emojis used in the UK, and 17% of those in the US.
Only ten months after the deadly Paris shootings, the French capital’s streets became once again the scenes of a horrible terror attack. Sadly, it turned out to be only one incident in a long line of several tragic events in November: the bombing of a Russian airplane in Egypt, as well as suicide bombings in both Beirut and Baghdad were among the other high-profile attacks being carried out by terrorists this month.
It is therefore no surprise that terrorism started trending on OxfordDictionaries.com:
Use of the term also picked up in the press following those events, according to the Oxford New Monitor Corpus:
Terrorism is a borrowing from French terrorisme, which came into being during the French Revolution of 1789–94 to specifically describe the ‘government by intimidation as directed and carried out by the party in power in France’. According to the OED, the term first appeared in English in 1795, in a speech by Thomas Paine. The definition of terrorism as ‘the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims’, which today is the more common one, emerged in that time as well.
For a more detailed look at the meaning of the word terrorism, read Stephen Spector’s article on the OUP blog.
The beginning of the December saw vast parts of China covered in hazardous smog, and in the north of England and Scotland, thousands of people spent Christmas and New Year’s fighting heavy rain and flooding. Other countries were also hit by extreme weather conditions over the holidays: in some parts of the US, this December became the warmest since records began, while in Australia, more than 100 homes were destroyed by a ravaging wildfire on Christmas Day.
Then there was, of course, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change taking place in Paris, where 196 countries reached a historic agreement to dramatically reduce the dangerous greenhouse emissions blamed for global warming.
In the light of all these tumultuous weather events, you could say that December was all about the climate.
Climate in the sense of ‘characteristic weather conditions of a country or region’ has been around since at least the 16th century. The OED tells us that the word is of multiple origins: it is partly a borrowing from Old French climat and partly from late Latin clima, climat-. It ultimately comes from Greek klima ‘slope, zone’, derived from klinein ‘to slope’. The term originally denoted a zone of the earth between two lines of latitude, then any region of the earth, and later, a region considered with reference to its atmospheric conditions.