Weekly Word Watch: hotumn, decolonize, and low-fat pigs
On this week’s instalment of our Weekly Word Watch, it’s blended words… and blended genomes.
American English speakers tend to refer to the season after summer and before winter as fall – unless they need a good portmanteau. Thanks to unseasonably warm temperatures across many places in the US, many people have been basking in, or bemoaning, hotumn, a blend of hot and autumn.
The term heated up this past week thanks to a playful piece in the New York Times by pop-culture reporter Reggie Ugwu, who mused that the increasingly regular occurrences of summer temperatures come autumn warrant a rethinking of the traditional four seasons:
Maybe we do need a fifth season. Not autumn, but ‘hotumn’ – a between-time when thighs and shoulders linger a little longer, and fans of fall fashion are left sweating in their boots.
It’s not an original coinage, though. You can find various tweeters independently conjuring up the pormanteau all the back in 2009:
Ugh. Typical Florida Hotumn morning. Air feels like soup.
— ManicPixieDreamBear (@ManicPixieBear) October 29, 2009
Other variants include Hotober and Sweatember, the latter of which also doubles as the name of a fitness motivator during that month (compare with Drynuary, when revelers abstain from drinking in January after all that holiday-season hooch).
Earlier this year, Cambridge University Student Union’s women’s officer Lola Olufemi sent an open letter to the English faculty urging them to ‘decolonise the curriculum’ by incorporating more ‘non-white authors’ in its teaching of postcolonial literature.
This week, the university announced it was taking Olufemi’s proposals, co-signed by hundreds of her peers and graduates, for consideration. Covering the story, the Telegraph – among other harassment Olufemi has faced – may well have proved her point when it ran the sensational headline: ‘Student forces Cambridge to drop white authors’.
Olufemi’s use of decolonise (or decolonize) is a powerful example of metaphorical extension. The verb literally refers to a state ‘withdrawing from a colony, leaving it independent’. But Olufemi’s campaign demonstrates how we can figuratively decolonise – or ‘undo colonialism and its broad consequences’ – more intangible phenomena like education, working to counter the institutional privilege white, Western, male authors and thinkers get in what is taught and considerable valuable to learn.
As Priyamvada Gopal, Cambridge University Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of English, tweeted:
I repeat: NOT ONE SINGLE WHITE MALE WRITER will be harmed in the adding of a few BME writers to any syllabus. Not one single one. Not even a token sacrifice of a Guy on a bonfire.
— Priyamvada Gopal (@PriyamvadaGopal) October 25, 2017
Gopal’s comment offers us another teachable moment as we learn the word decolonise: BME, which stands for ‘black and minority ethnic’.
Doesn’t the term low-fat pig strike you as a bit odd? That’s because we normally describe foods as low-fat (and have been since the early 1900s) – not the animals we derive that food from. We’d expect, instead, low-fat pork. Well, science may just be changing that.
This week, Chinese researchers announced they the used the gene-editing technology CRISPR to engineer pigs with 24 percent less body fat – and better ability to regulate body temperature – than normal pigs. As National Public Radio reported in the US: ‘The scientists created low-fat pigs in the hopes of providing pig farmers with animals that would be less expensive to raise and would suffer less in cold weather’. It could also, yes, lead to lower-fat sausages and rashers.
The scientists themselves aren’t referring to the pigs as low-fat, though: they are calling them uncoupling protein 1 knock-in pigs, or UCP1 KI pigs. Science writers know that low-fat pigs makes for a much juicier headline, but the phrase does suggest that further developments in the genetic modification of animals may change how we talk about – and think about – what we eat. Gluten-free cow, anyone?
A massive scandal shook… the sport of cricket this week. The curator of the Maharashtra Cricket Association in Pune India and former cricketer Pandurang Salgaonkar was accused of ‘pitch-fixing’ ahead of a match between India and New Zealand. Salgaonkar was caught agreeing to let reporters, posing as bookies, tamper with the pitch to make it bouncier. A former secretary of the Board of Council for Cricket in India also raised concerns about ‘pitch-fixing’ at Pune earlier this year. Shoaib Akhtar, once a cricketer for Pakistan, took to Twitter for his outrage over the controversy:
Even if this is #pitchfixing is rumor or a joke it should be dealt with an iron fist coz the game has already been damaged alot!!
— Shoaib Akhtar (@shoaib100mph) October 25, 2017
The fixing in pitch-fixing – also seen in match-fixing or spot-fixing – refers to the ‘illegal or underhand influencing of the outcome of something such as a race, match, or election’, especially through bribery. A colloquial outgrowth of the verb to fix (viz. ‘arrange’), this fixing is first found in American English as early as 1790, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, in the journal of the one of the first two US senators from Pennsylvania, William Maclay: ‘It is expected of us that we should fix the Governor of Pennsylvania’.