Weekly Word Watch: mutineers, shero, and Ferry McFerryface
There was a lot of activity on our radar for this Weekly Word Watch, so let’s get straight to our latest round of ping-worthy words:
On Tuesday, the Daily Telegraph drew the ire of some UK conservative MPs whom the paper branded as ‘mutineers’ for their efforts to block enshrining Brexit into law. It’s a forceful choice, mutineer, and a wry one, as it calls up Brexiteer, a blend which surged last year for pro-Leave voters.
The Telegraph’s ‘mutineer’ is also a fresh application of an old word. A mutineer originally referred to a soldier or sailor who rebels against authority – an act of mutiny. First attested by the Oxford English Dictionary in 1603, mutineer is borrowed from the French mutinier, based on muete, a ‘violent uprising’, which is the source of mutiny. The ultimate root is the Latin movere, ‘to move’, perhaps in the sense of ‘moved to action’.
‘Namey McNameface’ is back by popular demand. Last spring, the UK’s National Environment Resource Council (NERC) asked people to name its new research vessel in a public poll – and people did not disappoint when the deliberately daft Boaty McBoatface won the vote.
NERC went with the RRS Sir David Attenborough in the end, though it kept the playful moniker as the name of the ship’s submersible.
But NERC unleashed a massive meme. Australia followed suit that spring by naming a racehorse Horsey McHorseface and Sweden chose the name Trainy Mctrainface for a new train. Unlike Boaty McBoatface, those names stuck, as will the latest member of the family: Ferry McFerryFace, a new, yes, ferry in the Sydney Harbour. Boaty McBoatface actually beat Ferry McFerryFace in the polls, but as the former name was already taken by the smaller NERC craft, the regional transport minister happily went with the next runner-up.
— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) November 13, 2017
Music journalist Peter Robinson has been hearing a trend in pop music of late: muted and hushed vocals. And he’s calling this emerging sub-genre whisperpop. As he explains in the Guardian:
Most striking is the rise of what we will call ‘whisperpop’, which hit its apotheosis in Selena Gomez sleeper hits such as Good for You and Bad Liar, tracks with deceptively understated, intricate vocal performances that turn melisma-favouring X Factor logic on its head but are easily as compelling as anything from a Mariah-style, window-rattling chanteuse.
Robinson’s evocative coinage follows in the tradition of other descriptive pop genre names, like dance-pop, jangle pop, wonky pop, or K-pop, which is wildly popular in South Korea.
This week, toymaker Mattel debuted its first Barbie doll to wear a hijab in honour of fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first US athlete to wear a headscarf at the Olympic games. The new doll is part of Mattel’s new Sheroes line of Barbies.
Thank you @Mattel for announcing me as the newest member of the @Barbie #Shero family! I’m proud to know that little girls everywhere can now play with a Barbie who chooses to wear hijab! This is a childhood dream come true 😭💘 #shero pic.twitter.com/py7nbtb2KD
— Ibtihaj Muhammad (@IbtihajMuhammad) November 13, 2017
Sheroes are a she-hero, or ‘female heroes who inspire girls by breaking boundaries and expanding possibilities for women everywhere’, the Barbie website explains. First introduced in 2015, other Shero dolls include director Ava DuVernay and country music superstar Trisha Yearwood.
The shero portmanteau is not original to Mattel, however. Sheroes, for instance, is also the name of a popular online community for women. And while a clever word, let’s hope toys like Sheroes lead to a day when the word hero applies, un-gendered and equal, to us all.
Meanwhile, the popular message-board site Reddit recently moved to ban a community that calls themselves incels, short for involuntary celibates, or men who blame women for the fact that they are not having sex. Several posts in the controversial, 40,000-member-strong incel forum appeared to promote sexual violence against women, leading to their disbanding.
The term incel itself appears at least by 2007, when it was first entered on Urban Dictionary. And the incel community has its own colourfully pejorative vernacular, referring to women as femoids and the men they have sex with as chads, the Guardian notes.
The waters of French Polynesia are set to be home to the world’s first seastead, or a community living at sea, as the New York Times reported this week. The $167-million Floating Island Project has the blessing of the French Polynesian government to begin piloting an experimental offshore floating city, ultimately envisioned to be self-governed in a special economic seazone.
As we see with seazone, the Floating Island Project comes with all sorts of new vocabulary, including seasteading and seasteader. The Seasteading Institute – headed by one of the project’s directors and self-styled seavaneglist Joe Quirk – explains the word: ‘It comes from homesteading, which means making a home for oneself in new, uninhabited places. It generally has associations with self-sufficiency and a frontier lifestyle. Seasteading is reminiscent of that idea, but at sea’.
A hybrid car warrants a hybrid name. The Holthausen Group, a Dutch natural gas company, rigged up the Tesla Model S with hydrogen fuel cells. The modification nearly doubles the electric vehicle’s range and suggests hydrogen technology may have more of a future in transportation than previously thought.
Holthausen are calling it the Hesla, a blend of hydrogen and Tesla, although perhaps with an additional nod to the H in Hotlhausen. The name Tesla Motors itself honours Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla, who helped pioneer alternating current (AC) power.
Quick quiz: what’s the capital of the Kingdom of Dixit? Well, if it’s new, self-coronated leader, King Suyash Dixit has his way, it’s Suyashpur.
The ambitious young Indian software engineer trekked to Bir Tamil, an 800-square-mile patch of uninhabited, unclaimed land between Egypt and Sudan. He planted a flag and got to the task of humorously, and nominally, starting up his new country. Including dubbing itself capital Suyashpur. Suyash is eponymous, of course, while pur comes an ancient Sanskrit word for ‘city’ or ‘settlement’.
The UN isn’t likely to recognize the Kingdom of Dixit any time soon, just as it didn’t in 2014 when an American man claimed the land. But the next time you look at a map of Southeast Asia, you’ll know what place-names with pur or pura are referring to – like Singapore, which literally means ‘lion city’.
Header image: Barbie® Ibtihaj Muhammad One-of-a-Kind Doll, Mattel