Weekly Word Watch: porg, Harveyed, and moron
Cute critters, nostalgic toys, and presidential pejorations? Yep, the weekend’s right around the corner, because it’s another Weekly Word Watch on the blog:
A new trailer for The Last Jedi, the latest instalment in the Stars Wars universe, came out this week, and many fans went wild – for a cute, wide-eyed, winged, little creature that chirruped for a wee moment in the action-packed preview.
It’s called a porg, film creative executive Pablo Hidalgo explained: ‘Porgs are native to Ahch-To, and can be found dwelling along the cliffs of the island where Luke and Rey are… They build nests. They can fly.’ And, as Hidalgo confirmed in a tweet, their babies are called porglets. You don’t need to know where Ahch-To is to know porglet is adorable.
Porgs are the brainchild of the film’s director, Rian Johnson, who was inspired by puffins he encountered while filming on an island off the west coast of Ireland. It’s not clear what prompted the name, though the swooning swell of porg memes and fan art has prompted some humorous wordplay: porgmania, porgåsbord, porgvolution, and even verbs and nouns like porging and porger.
Oh, and the collective name for a group of porgs? A murder, like crows, as Johnson winked on Twitter:
A group of porgs is a murder.
— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) September 18, 2017
We all want our names to live on, and many do – in our language. Consider burpee, cardigan, joule, leotard, or sandwich, which remember their originators. But we don’t always get to control how we’re remembered, if we look to negative examples like bork, boycott, or lynch. Will Harvey became the latest addition to these benighted eponyms?
As we learned in a series of disturbing reports this week, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein is facing a slew of allegations of sexual assault and rape. Now, some in the media are taking to describing these horrible accounts as being ‘Harveyed’, implying not just harassment, or worse, specifically by Harvey Weinstein, but now using his name as a shorthand for the broader victimization that happens at the hands of person abusing their professional power.
‘The evil that men do lives after them’, as Shakespeare warned us.
For Thaler, a nudge is a little action that can have a big impact on human behaviour. ‘Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not’, as he has explained his concept. The simple adjustment of this nudge – lightly prompting a better decision, in contrast to a larger, more complex policies and regulations – can make it easier for people to eat healthier.
In 2010, the UK Cabinet Office founded the Behavioural Insights Team, dubbed the ‘Nudge Unit’, to apply Thaler’s signature theories to government. They’ve been successful, too. One trial found that rates of tax payments jumped significantly when Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs sent out reminders – nudges – that stated most people in that same area had already paid. Just a gentle push, as if to say: ‘Hey, your neighbours are doing it. Why not you?’
And, lexically speaking, that’s all a nudge is: a gentle push, though especially with the elbow. The word nudged its way into English in the late 17th century, apparently related to a Scandinavian word like the Norwegian nugge, ‘push’.
In other cute news, Tamagotchi – the 1990s, handheld, egg-shaped e-pet toy craze – are coming back. As many millennials will wax nostalgic, users have to care for their squiggly, pixelated Tamagotchi hatchlings… else they will die.
— Bandai America (@BandaiAmerica) October 11, 2017
But what is a Tamagotchi? Well, they were an alien species sent to Earth… No, no. The name, according to its creator, Bandai, blends the Japanese word for ‘egg’, tamago, with the English word watch. The term conveys how the player has to start the device’s clock, which is when the pet hatches from an egg. Tamagotchi additionally suggests the device’s distinctive shape and how gameplay centers on watching after, or minding, the pet.
Finally, I suppose it wouldn’t be a Weekly Word Watch in 2017 without a mention of, you guessed it, Donald Trump. Last week, reports surfaced in Washington that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a ‘moron’. Answering the reports this week, Trump challenged Tillerson to ‘compare IQ tests’ if he did.
Perhaps Trump intended it, but the history of the word moron is indeed connected to IQ tests.
American psychologist – and eugenicist – Henry Goddard coined moron in 1910. As the Oxford English Dictionary cites him: ‘The other (suggestion) is to call them [sc. feeble-minded children] by the Greek word ‘“moron”. It is defined as one who is lacking in intelligence, one who is deficient in judgement or sense’.
Moron indeed comes from the Greek for ‘foolish’ or ‘stupid’, and also appears in the much older oxymoron, literally ‘sharply foolish’, describing the unusual juxtaposition the figure of speech makes, e.g. thunderous silence. In American psychology in the early 20th-century, moron was a technical term for a person with an IQ score between 50 or 70, which is now variously referred to as ‘well below average’. Imbecile and idiot were also once terms for individuals with very low IQs, though, thankfully, we’ve stopped labelling people with mental disabilities in such offensive terms.
Since the 1910s, moron has diffused into the mainstream lexicon – including all the way up to the White House – as a word for a ‘stupid person’.