Weekly Word Watch: burgergate, daddymoon, and bierfiets
Another week—another Weekly Word Watch. This week’s batch dishes up some scandalous suffixes, baby blends, and changes from З to Z.
Kneegate & burgergate
‘If this is over “kneegate”, him touching my knee 15 years ago and me not having any issue with it today, this is the most insane, absurd and ridiculous resignation of a cabinet minister ever’, journalist and broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer told Sky News on Thursday.
Hartley-Brewer is referring to UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, who stepped down from his post after it emerged he repeatedly touched her knee during a Conservative party conference dinner in 2002. And she’s calling it kneegate:
— Julia Hartley-Brewer (@JuliaHB1) November 1, 2017
Hartley-Brewer may disagree with Fallon’s resignation, but two things are for certain. First, we’re definitely experiencing a (long overdue) cultural moment where many women are coming forward with sexual violence they’ve experienced—and the men they are accusing are starting to face consequences for it. A storm of other allegations of sexual harassment and assault in British government this month have inspired the portmanteaux #Sexminster, riffing on Westminster, and #Sexit, a play on Brexit.
Second, -gate continues to thrive as a word-forming element designating a ‘scandal’, freed from Nixon’s Watergate scandal. The suffix is often used with irony, more dismissive in the case of kneegate—and more light-hearted in the case of burgergate. A few days before Halloween on Twitter, author Thomas Baekdal exposed Google’s unconscionable placement of cheese underneath the patty of its hamburger emoji:
I think we need to have a discussion about how Google's burger emoji is placing the cheese underneath the burger, while Apple puts it on top pic.twitter.com/PgXmCkY3Yc
— Thomas Baekdal (@baekdal) October 28, 2017
Google CEO Sundar Pichai joked that the tech giant would make resolving #burgergate his first order of business:
Will drop everything else we are doing and address on Monday:) if folks can agree on the correct way to do this! https://t.co/dXRuZnX1Ag
— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) October 29, 2017
An article in the New York Times this week highlighted an emerging trend—and word. It’s the daddymoon, a blend of daddy and honeymoon.
On a daddymoon, a father-to-be takes some time away from his spouse and joins his pals for some fun and relaxation before his baby is born. It’s also known as dadchelor party, a bachelor or stag party for the expectant dad. The mother, for her part, enjoys a mommymoon or mummymoon.
Both daddymoon and mummymoon are inspired by the earlier babymoon, ‘a holiday taken by a pregnant woman and her partner before the baby is born’.
The word honeymoon itself is older than we may have guessed. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) first attests it in 1546 for ‘the period immediately following marriage, as characterized by love and happiness’, extended by 1791 to the holiday newly married take after their wedding. The honey likely alludes to the sweetness of this time—while the moon appears to imply that the affection will wane as does the moon!
What could make for a better daddymoon than cycling around the canals of Amsterdam with your buddies while putting back some pints? Well, no more.
This week, many Amsterdammers are cheering their city’s decision to ban bierfiets, aka ‘beer bikes’. An Amsterdam district court ruled that ‘the beer bicycle may be banned from the city centre to stop it from being a nuisance’, including rowdy behavior and public urination—or as the Dutch may call it, wildplassen, literally ‘wild peeing’.
Sharing a common Germanic ancestor, Dutch is a close relative of English, and English has borrowed a fair number of words from the Low Countries, including landscape and cookie. So, we might reasonably surmise that bierfiets means ‘beer-feet’, an apt name for a pedal-powered bar table. But that would be biervoeten in Dutch, a word perhaps better suited for the drunken stumbling the beer bike ban seeks to put the brakes on.
Fiets actually means ‘bicycle’ in Dutch. Its origin is obscure; suggestions include a root in a dialectical Dutch verb meaning ‘to move quickly’.
Speaking of prohibitions and Germanic languages, there will be no more climbing on one of the world’s most celebrated inselbergs.
Local authorities have banned climbing on Uluru, the sandstone landmark—and sacred Aboriginal site—that emerges in a dramatic red from the Australian outback.
To geologists, Uluru is considered an inselberg, ‘an isolated hill or mountain rising abruptly from a plain’. Fittingly, inselberg means ‘island mountain’ in German. The OED first attests the curious formation in its parent language in 1898, borrowed into English by 1907.
The German Berg means ‘mountain’ (cf. iceberg). And Insel is ‘island’, which comes from the Latin insula, ultimate source of English’s own isle, insulate, and isolate. While island looks like insula, isle, and insel, the word is actually unrelated. Island comes from the Old English igland, with ig denoting ‘island’—making island literally an ‘island-land’.
Goodbye, Қазақстан. Hello, Qazaqstan.
Over the weekend, President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan decreed his country will switch from a Cyrillic-based alphabet to a Latin-based one. Down from 42, the new alphabet will feature 32 letters, using apostrophes to represent certain sounds in Kazakh—or Qazaq.
A Turkic language, Kazakh is used to such changes. Kazakh used an Arabic script until the Soviet Union imposed a Latin alphabet in 1929, then Cyrillic in 1940.
With the change, Nazarbayev intends to make it easier to communicate with a streamlined Kazakh writing system in a digital world that largely uses the Latin alphabet. The move’s political implications aren’t lost on observers, though, as the alphabetic about-face distances the former Soviet republic from Russia, which uses the Cyrillic alphabet.