Unspun, white knighting, and other words on our radar
2016 has so far been an exciting year for new words and phrases. Among the most recent additions to OxfordDictionaries.com are such colourful terms as phubbing (‘the practice of ignoring one’s companion or companions in order to pay attention to one’s phone or other mobile device’), dumpster fire (‘a chaotic or disastrously mishandled situation’), and hot take (‘a piece of commentary, typically produced quickly in response to a recent event, whose primary purpose is to attract attention’).
As we continue to monitor language, we regularly stumble upon neologisms that are gaining traction in the media and online discussions, but do not yet meet the criteria for dictionary inclusion. This month’s selection of words on our radar are plucked from the usual contexts that have, in the past, often been useful sources for tracking new words and senses – politics, technology, and culture. And while it is entirely possible that some of them will fall out of use again, others, however, may stand the test of time and end up in OxfordDictionaries.com.
With the US presidential election looming, and the latest political developments in the UK, the field of politics has proven to be particularly productive for new coinages this year. One neologism related to this area that has recently caught our eyes is unspun. Initially denoting wool that has not been woven into a thread, the adjective can increasingly be found in political contexts as a synonym for genuine or authentic – as in ‘unspun politics is what many voters are crying out for’. In this latter sense, unspun works as an antonym of the verb spin, meaning ‘to give (a news story) a particular emphasis or bias’.
Moving on from presidential politics to gender politics, the noun white knighting is coming to greater prominence. The term is commonly used to refer to the practice of coming to someone’s aid, particularly of men coming to the aid of women used. Given this meaning, it is perhaps no surprise that it is often used in a derogatory context, as in ‘I’ve always maintained that ‘white knighting’ is in itself a sexist gesture’.
Technological advancement creates gaps in our language that get filled either by applying new senses to existing words (e.g. unicorn as a name for a start-up company valued at more than a billion dollars) or coining entirely new terms (e.g. the aforementioned phubbing). Mukbang surely falls into the latter category. As a blend of the Korean meokneun, ‘eating’, and bangsong, ‘broadcast’, the word refers to a video of someone eating food intended for others to enjoy vicariously. While this latest fad originates from Korea, it appears to be catching on in the English-speaking world as well, and we will continue to monitor the word’s usage to see whether it will sometime qualify for inclusion in our dictionary.
PITA and JFDI
The long ongoing shift towards using more short-message services like Twitter or WhatsApp must have certainly played a part in giving rise to the formation of new acronyms and initialisms like IDK, ROFL, or LOL. With the emergence of PITA and JFDI, the trend seems to continue. The two are abbreviations for ‘pain in the ass (or arse)’ and ‘just fucking do it’ respectively.