Weekly Word Watch: shrinkflation, Fenty, and eve-teasing
Got that #FridayFeeling? We do – because it’s time for another Weekly Word Watch. Here are the words that grabbed our attention this past week:
…and then there were 10. McVitie’s, the British biscuit behemoth, announced this week that it is reducing the packet size of its signature chocolatey-orange Jaffa Cakes from 12 to 10 – and at a slight increase in price, as analysts have crunched the numbers.
This commercial phenomenon, selling less of a product for the same price or higher, has a colourful name: shrinkflation. A blend of shrink and inflation, the word pinged Oxford Dictionaries’ radar back in May of this year. As then noted, the word first appeared in 2009, when economic historian Brian Domitrovic coined the term for an economy that was contracting as prices surged – in contrast to the similarly formed stagflation. Domitrovic’s shrinkflation didn’t quite expand in his field, so to speak, though some professionals use another portmanteau, slumpflation, for the economic concept.
Shrinkflation’s specific application to ‘less-for-more’ products didn’t emerge until 2013, some time after the likes of Mars, Toblerone, and Nestlé notably started scrimping on our favourite snacks. The term hasn’t yet earned an entry into our dictionaries, however, as our lexicographers are still keeping an eye on its broader uptake in the lexicon.
One thing’s for sure, though: we may be getting fewer Jaffa Cakes, but we’re also getting more evidence for the staying power of shrinkflation.
Unlike shrinkflation, a new sense of ghost has been, er, haunting us. Added to Oxford’s dictionaries of current English in 2016, it means ‘to end a personal relationship with (someone) by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication’. The American Dialect Society – which named the word as ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ for its 2015 Word of the Year voting – adds that ghosting typically occurs online, though some employers are finding their staff are increasingly ghosting the workplace.
Ghost itself goes back to Old English, and its use as a verb is no novelty. Shakespeare, for instance, used ghost for ‘to haunt as an apparition’ in Antony and Cleopatra.
Contemporary ghosting has certainly come back to haunt one employee, as we learned in a viral story this week. A man who disappeared on his girlfriend of three years a decade ago – ‘We clearly had different expectations from the relationship. I did not know what to do and, well, I ghosted her’ – discovered she was going to be his new boss.
Earlier this month, singer Rihanna launched her makeup line, Fenty Beauty, whose praises have since been loudly sung. Fenty is after her surname, Robyn Rihanna Fenty. But with rumors stirring this week that the superstar was also crossing over into skincare and even wine and spirits, Twitter was abuzz with plenty of Fenty:
i can’t wait to wear Fenty clothes in my house relaxing wearing Fenty slides, listening to Fenty music while sipping my Fenty Wine https://t.co/956KuyXfjr
— c (@chuuzus) September 24, 2017
the year is 2027. rihanna &her brand have seized the means of production from corporate america. we have universal healthcare. fenty health.
— virgo queen (@EFFLORESCENE) September 25, 2017
Fentish people of the fenty rihpublic
— Your Mans (@drakesbbydad) September 27, 2017
Clearly, these tweeters are having fun with the hubbub and making clever commentary on celebrity branding, but their wordplay suggests Fenty may have some legs. Its short, stressed vowel, familiar trochaic rhythm, and common -y ending help Fenty fit right into our speech, and we could well imagine the term jumping from an eponymous adjective to a slang term for anything ‘hot’, ‘dope’, or ‘hype’.
Time – and sales – will judge just how fenty Fenty gets.
In Saudi Arabia, it’s no longer haram – or ‘forbidden’ in Arabic – for women to drive cars. Before King Salman issued the decree this Tuesday, thanks to the long- and hard-fought activism of Saudi women, the country was the only one in the world that banned women from driving.
The Oxford English Dictionary first cites haram in William Bedwell’s 1615 translation of an Arabic text, which is considered the first Arabic lexicon printed in Britain. Bedwell’s haram refers to the sacred site around Mecca, where certain activities, like carrying weapons, are forbidden. Here, the word, in English as in Arabic, marks a transferred use of its root meaning of ‘forbidden’, ‘unlawful’, and ‘sacrosanct’.
English speakers may be even more familiar with a derivative of haram: harem. The origin and development of harem is complex, but, before its concubinary connotations, the term referred to a ‘wife’s lodging’, it being historically ‘forbidden’ in some Islamic traditions for a wife to be seen or touched by anyone other than her husband.
English speakers may also be more familiar with the antonym of haram: halal, which can describe food that has been prepared in accordance with Islamic law.
The rights of women are also at the centre of events unfolding around India’s Banaras Hindu University (BHU). Following the gross sexual harassment of a female student on campus, women protesters were met with a police crackdown, who reportedly lathi-charged them – or attacked them with batons.
Addressing the incidents, BHU Vice Chancellor Girish Chandra Tripathi told the Indian Express: ‘It was not an incident of molestation, it is one of eve-teasing’. This term, eve-teasing, among other controversial remarks, has met with much blowback.
In the English spoken India and South Asia, eve-teasing is ‘the making of unwanted sexual remarks or advances by a man to a woman in a public place’. The word is widely decried as a sexist euphemism. It alludes to the biblical Eve, often interpreted as tempting Adam into evil. And teasing at once insinuates a women sexually leading a man on while excusing a man’s harassment as nothing more than a bit of play.
The OED’s earliest citation for the term, as it happens, suggests campus conditions haven’t, sadly, improved much for many women. From the London Times in 1960: ‘“Eve-teasing” is not, apparently, just the oafish high spirits or illwill of a handful of male students but is rather a symptom of the strong resentment which many students feel against women in the universities’.
Image credit: Debby Wong / shutterstock.com