Strong and stable? UK political words on our radar
With the UK’s general election now just under three weeks’ away, we’ve seen a rise in linguistic creativity in the world of politics. In the last week alone, there has been a flurry of neologisms and extended uses in the news, but how many of those terms will make it into our dictionaries? Here is a selection of those we’ll be looking into to see if they have a lasting impact.
There has been much talk this week of Mayism to describe the policies put forward by Theresa May’s government. May’s short time as Prime Minister has not seen this term gain enough usage to be considered for inclusion yet, but she is following in a grand tradition in seeing her name inspire a coinage. We have entries for three Prime Minister inspired -isms in our dictionaries currently, including Blairism, and Muldoonism, after the New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. And of course, as the second female Prime Minister and a Conservative leader, it is impossible not to draw parallels between May and Thatcher. The earliest citation given in the Oxford English Dictionary for Thatcherism is from 1977, two years after she became leader of the Conservative Party, and two years before she took office as Prime Minister, so there could be time yet for May to make her eponymous mark on the English language.
Clause Four moment
Although there is currently an entry for Clause Four, in our online dictionary, defined as ‘the fourth clause in the constitution of the British Labour Party’, we do not have an entry to cover Clause Four moment. This week, The Guardian have questioned whether May’s current iteration of Conservatism might be a Clause Four moment for the Conservative Party, but what does this mean? The original Clause Four affirmed the Labour Party’s commitment to state ownership of industry and services, but was revised in 1995 to allow for the alternative of privately owned but publicly accountable utilities. This was seen as a drastic reversal of a key tenet of the Labour Party’s policies. To say that the Conservative Party are having a Clause Four Moment is to say that their manifesto has made some dramatically un-Conservative sounding proposals.
The phrase Clause Four moment has seen fairly consistent use since the early 2000s, and is well on its way to being a serious contender for coverage in our dictionaries.
Famously, Benjamin Franklin wrote that, ‘in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’. If you’re very unlucky, you might be facing both at once. Historically, the term death tax has been used (largely in the US) to refer critically to inheritance taxes, seen as overly punitive. As Franklin stated, death is certain, and so it is seen by many as unfair to make it such an expensive affair. This week, the Tory manifesto revealed a proposal to defer the cost for elderly care until after the person has died, sparking critics to reapply the term death tax to refer to these charges. This new sense has a long way to go before we add it to our dictionaries, but we will be keeping an eye out for sustained usage in this way, especially if such policies are put into action.
May would perhaps have preferred not to leave the legacy of creating the nickname the Nasty Party for the Conservative Party, but unfortunately her words from the 2002 party conference continue to follow her, this time in Labour Party criticism of the new Conservative manifesto. From evidence in our New Words Corpus, this follows a general pattern of increased usage of the term around UK election periods. We have been tracking usage of the Nasty Party since 2013, and like all unwanted nicknames it seems that the Conservatives will not be shaking this one off anytime soon. Already, it shows up in citations at three separate OED entries, at kitten-heeled, hard-line, and under attack. Current frequency of usage indicates that this term may soon be common enough to be given an entry of its own.
Last year’s referendum in Britain was a very linguistically productive political event. The word Brexit has become so common as to no longer seem like a clumsy portmanteau, and is used now with a straight face to refer to Britain’s no longer quite so theoretical departure from the European Union. Brexit has given way to the terms Brexiter and Brexiteer to describe those who voted to leave in the referendum, the latter echoing the term Marketeer used before Britain’s entry into the European Common Market (as it was then known) for those who wished to join.
In contrast, those who voted to stay in the EU have been termed Remainers, a specific sense that is well on its way to gathering enough evidence to being added to our dictionaries. Only taking its very first steps towards becoming a recognized word is Re-Leaver, a term used by YouGov’s Marcus Roberts to describe people who voted to remain in the EU, but who believe that the government must respect the results of the referendum and thus take Britain out of the EU, presumably as a blend of Remain and Leaver. According to YouGov’s polls, 23 per cent of those who voted to stay in take this stance. It is yet to be seen whether the coinage, or the phenomenon itself, will last.