Weekly Word Watch: bodegas in the bardo
Botched branding, Tibetan titles, and vile, festering, steaming collections of fat and wet wipes? Why, it’s just another Weekly Word Watch on the blog:
This week, Apple unveiled the iPhone X. The new device – whose Roman numeral for 10 commemorates the tenth anniversary of the first iPhone – has lots of bells and whistles, including Animoji. Animoji is a blend of animated and emoji. As Apple explains, a new camera technology in the iPhoneX ‘captures and analyzes over 50 different facial muscle movements, then animates those expressions in a dozen different Animoji, including a panda, unicorn and robot’, which users can record and send along with voice messages.
Contrary to popular belief, the word emoji itself is not a blend based on their text-message predecessor, the emoticon. Emerging in the 1990s, emoji joins the Japanese e, ‘picture’, and moji, ‘character’, i.e., a pictograph. Apple is currently capitalizing Animoji, but time, and user uptake, will tell if the technology becomes common enough to warrant lowercasing. And only time will tell if we will need a new term for animated glyphs writ large. Animographs, anyone?
The 2017 shortlist for the prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction was released on Wednesday. For the first time, half of the six nominees are American novelists, following the first American winner the previous year.
More notable, lexically speaking, is a word featured in one of the titles of the shortlisted novels: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, a haunting multi-voiced story that unfolds as US President Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie, is dying. And if Saunders wins, we’ll expect to see many more people asking: What, exactly, is a bardo?
As the contemporary Buddhist magazine, Lion’s Roar, explains: ‘Bardo is the Tibetan term for the intermediate state or gap we experience between death and our next rebirth. More generally, the word bardo refers to the gap or space we experience between any two states’, as when we’re dreaming, for example.
The term is featured in the Bardo Thodol, commonly known in the West as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, a guide for the dead traditionally credited to Padma Sambhava in the eighth century AD. In the Tibetan language, the word bardo itself literally means ‘between two’ or ‘interval two’, referring to that intermediate state of the soul or consciousness between death and rebirth.
Twitter has been roasting a new startup that wants to make bodegas – a small corner shop, usually in an urban areas like New York and Los Angeles that specialize in Hispanic groceries – obsolete. The company has invented a vending machine ‘pantry box’ where users can purchase non-perishable items ranging from sparkling water to disposable plates using their app. Its name? Bodega, complete with a cat logo, alluding to the popular bodega cats meme. (What’s a Weekly Word Watch without a cat reference?!)
One tweeter suggested a different name for the startup, which many are criticizing for its ironically and insensitively named threat to small, often minority and immigrant business owners:
Weird that they’re calling this heinous vending machine “Bodega” and not “Gentrification Box” https://t.co/xPCozclRRD
— Tristan Cooper (@TristanACooper) September 13, 2017
Attested in English since 1846, bodega begins as a Spanish word for ‘wine shop’, from the Latin apothēca and Greek ἀποθήκη (apotheke) before it, meaning ‘storehouse’. The root also yields apothecary and incredibly, via its French permutation, boutique. Next time you are running errands around high street, see if you can stop in to all three cognates.
London’s Thames Water has found a ‘monster’ fatberg. Weighing 130 tonnes and spanning 250 metres, this ‘solid mass of congealed fat, wet wipes, nappies, oil and condoms formed in the Victorian-era tunnel in Whitechapel, London’, the BBC reports. It’s quite the specimen – so much so that the Museum of London is interested in adding it to their collection as an exhibit of modern urban life.
The word fatberg is a timely specimen, too. Oxford Dictionaries – which focuses on current English and includes modern meanings of words and associated usage examples – added the word in 2015, and the American Dialect Society nominated it as one of its ‘Most Outrageous’ words for 2014. (It lost to underbutt.)
But it was Simon Evans, media relations manager at Thames Water, who provided what may be the most colorful definition of fatberg. Speaking of a bus-sized fatberg in 2013, Evans offered: ‘A fatberg is a vile, festering, steaming collection of fat and wet wipes’.
All too often, tragedy is our teacher. This week, many of us learned about the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, also known as Burma. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority living there. Hundreds of thousands of them – considered illegal immigrants though they’ve long lived in the country – are fleeing to neighboring countries like Bangladesh as Myanmar forces have been burning down their villages, among other attacks and deprivations.
The name Rohingya is considered a self-designation in their language, also called Rohingya, which is an Indo-European tongue that employs an Arabic script. The name itself is said to refer to a former kingdom in Rhakine State – previously Arakan – where many Rohingya call home. UN officials monitoring the Rohingya crisis, meanwhile, are keeping close watch on different term: ethnic cleansing.