Weekly Word Watch: tbh, chinning, and döstädning
We’ve survived the #REDSUN that ominously glowered over much of England on Monday and made it to Friday, which means it’s time for another Weekly Word Watch:
These three little letters spell big business. This week, Facebook announced it is acquiring tbh, a wildly popular mobile-phone app that allows teenagers to give positive feedback to their friends by anonymously answering polls. A question might ask of a group of schoolmates, for example, ‘Who is most likely to be president?’ or ‘Who is the best person to go on a road trip with?’. The winner is awarded a digital gem.
The app, whose official lowercase styling is sure to frustrate copyeditors, takes its name from the internet slang tbh, an acronym for ‘to be honest’. In many online contexts, tbh is a shorthand that signals a frank, if snide or unpopular, opinion. But on social media sites like Instagram, ‘tbh’ can behave as noun. There, a young Instragrammer might post ‘lms for a tbh’, asking their followers to ‘like my status’ to get ‘a tbh’, or a friendly and earnest compliment: ‘#tbh you’re really smart’.
First there was planking. Then there was owling. Then followed a slew of other copycat fads in which people photograph themselves assuming some other daft pose in a variety of ridiculous circumstances. Is chinning next? This one, at least, has a cause.
Under the apt handle of @chinventures on Instagram, Michelle Liu has been chinning all around the world: taking selfies in which she leans back and scrunches her head down into her neck to make it seem she has multiple chins. She calls them ‘chinfies’, and they are her humorous answer to the too-polished images that populate so much of social media.
With her chinning, Liu has been chinning unrealistic and unhealthy expectations of beauty and perfection online. That chinning is an old, 19th-century verb meaning ‘to talk to or address boldly’.
We wrapped our arms around the Danes’s ‘warm and cosy’ hygge, which made the shortlist for Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 Word of the Year. Earlier this year, we leapt for Sweden’s ‘just-right’ lagom. Now, in our latest appetite for Scandinavian lifestyles and lexemes, we are springing for döstädning.
This Nordicism really gives up the farm – or cleans it, shall we say. Döstädning literally means ‘death cleaning’ (dö, ‘to die’, and städning, ‘cleaning’). The word is getting new life in English thanks to Swedish author Margareta Magnusson’s popular book, The gentle art of Swedish death cleaning, which encourages people over 50 to gradually downsize so that their next of kin won’t be burdened by their possessions once they pass on. Döstädning can also help us all learn to declutter our lives to prioritize what’s really important – and learn some handy Swedish along the day.
Speaking of Australian ughs, a Sydney mother discovered something very unpleasant in her daughter’s babyccino: a dead cockroach. ‘Blech!’, you might be screaming, or perhaps: ‘babyccino’?
A babyccino is a coffee drink for babies. After fixing a parent’s order, some baristas will steam and foam some milk or whip up a decaf cappuccino for their java-in-training toddler, hence babyccino. Starbucks’ Frappuccino is a similar, if a more conspicuous and trademarked, blend, fusing cappuccino with frappe.
Babyccino drew a lot of ire earlier in the 2010s both as a word and for its ‘hipsterism’, which might explain why the coinage never quite stayed on the lexical menu. Now, back in the news, babyccino has legs – for all the wrong reasons.
To end on a more serious note, a disturbing form of assault has been sweeping parts of Kashmir: ‘braid-chopping’, involving assailants who have been drugging women and cutting off their hair.
Aside from the violence of the act in its own right, ‘braid-chopping’ additionally affronts conservative norms held by many Muslims in the region, where it’s viewed as dishonorable for women to cut or show their hair publicly as well as to be touched by any man to whom they aren’t married. Panic and protests are erupting and political tensions are boiling as police try to track down these ‘braid-choppers’.
Image: Michelle Liu