Weekly Word Watch: man flu, bitshaming, and còsagach
The words just don’t stop coming, folks. There were loads of notable terms and phrases this past week, so let’s get right to the Word Watch:
Man flu is a humorous term for ‘a cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms’. But according to a paper in The BMJ this week, the term may not be ‘just an ingrained pejorative term with no scientific basis’, as author Dr Kyle Sue writes.
After reviewing the literature on the topic, Sue concludes: ‘Men may not be exaggerating symptoms but have weaker immune responses to viral respiratory viruses, leading to greater morbidity and mortality than seen in women.’
So, will our GPs soon be giving out diagnoses of man flu to laid-up lads, encourage them to get a dudecine or bro shot each winter?
Man flu is a funny phrase, and Sue’s conclusions make for grabby headlines – ‘Man flu is real, says new research’. But the story is also an occasion for us to practice some scientific literacy.
For one, the paper was published in The BMJ’s special Christmas edition, which has a reputation for more light-hearted content. Indeed, note Sue’s tongue-in-cheek call for man caves in closing: ‘Perhaps now is the time for male friendly spaces, equipped with enormous televisions and reclining chairs, to be set up where men can recover from the debilitating effects of man flu in safety and comfort.’
For another, Sue’s paper is just one review of the scientific literature, if the only so far. All of the content is real and legitimate, but let’s be wary of any over-generalizations of spreading like so much… influenza.
In more serious – and quite heartening – medical news, a Nottingham baby born with her heart outside her body has survived surgery in Leicester. It’s a rare success for a rare condition that goes by a rare name: ectopia cordis.
Ectopia cordis literally means ‘displacement of the heart’. Many of us will recognize ectopia in its more common adjectival form, ectopic, as in an ectopic pregnancy. The word comes from the Greek for ‘out of place’, with the root topos, ‘place’, yielding other English words like topic and topography. Cordis is from the Latin word for heart, and appearing in heartwarming derivatives like cordial and concord.
‘Lead us not’
During medical emergencies like one the Nottingham family thankfully came through, many of us like to pray. Christians may say, for instance, one of their faith’s most familiar and foundational orations, the Our Father or Lord’s Prayer. But changes in the words of the paternoster may be afoot.
This week, Pope Francis voiced issue with the one line of the prayer: ‘lead us not into temptation’. As the New York Times reported:
In a new television interview, Pope Francis said the common rendering of one line in the prayer — ‘lead us not into temptation’ – was ‘not a good translation’ from ancient texts. ‘Do not let us fall into temptation’, he suggested, might be better because God does not lead people into temptation; Satan does… ‘It is I who fall, it is not God who throws me into temptation’.
French-speaking Catholics have made such changes, from ne nous soumets pas à la tentation (literally, ‘do not submit us to temptation’) to ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation (‘do not let us enter into temptation’). In the Pope’s native Spanish, meanwhile, the prayer’s language is in line with the thinking of the Pope: no nos dejes caer en tentación, or ‘do not let us fall into temptation’.
The Lord’s Prayer is indeed a history of translations. We can find ‘lead us not’ in many English versions, from the flagship 1611 King James Version back to Old English, which rendered the construction as ne gelæd. These are all translations from Latin, such as the Vulgate’s ne inducas nos – with that inducas having a core meaning of ‘lead in’ or ‘bring in’. The Latin, in turn, is based on the original Greek, which features εἰσενέγκῃς (roughly, eisenenkes), also taken as ‘bring’ or lead in’.
But literal etymology – as exegetes like the Pope know well – isn’t the same as contextual intent. We’ll leave that to the theologians.
Southeast of Rome, meanwhile, the United Nations Educational, Cultural, and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) recently named the art of pizzaiuolo in Naples and surrounding Campania region to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
And yet pizzaiuolo produces something very tangible, indeed. As UNESCO explains this famed pizza-making process:
The art of the Neapolitan ‘Pizzaiuolo’ is a culinary practice comprising four different phases relating to the preparation of the dough and its baking in a wood-fired oven, involving a rotatory movement by the baker.
In Italian, pizzaiuolo technically refers to the ‘pizza-maker’, though with UNESCO’s announcement, we should expect the term to increasingly name the craft itself outside the country. Pizzaiuoli in the plural, pizzaiuolo is roughly pronounced like ‘pee-tsa-yo-lo’; the base of the word, pizza, is obvious enough, while its vowelly toppings form a kind of occupational suffix.
UNESCO wasn’t only in it for the pizza, though. Their honouring of pizzaiuolo also focused on the bottega, or the social community of ‘shop’ where apprentices learn from masters and families pass down the tradition generation after generation. Bottega, as you may have guessed, is cousin to bodega, which we highlighted on a Word Watch earlier this year.
Còsagach is the new hygge – or at least Scotland’s tourism body, VisitScotland, wants it to be in 2018.
In a trend report published this week, VisitScotland says còsagach is ‘based on an old Scottish word for feeling snug, sheltered and warm’, conjuring up all the hygge-snugness of ‘fluffy rugs, fire pits, outdoor hot tubs and wood burning stoves’.
But The Guardian found that native Gaelic speakers actually associate the word with ‘wet moss’ and originally meant more like ‘full of holes’. The paper interviewed Mark Wringe, a senior lecturer on the language:
“The word còsagach to me is an adjective derived from còsag, a wee nook or hole such as very small creatures might live in…I can see how, by extension, you might take this to mean cosy, but I wonder if someone’s thoughts have been guided by the resemblance in sound between this and the English word cosy.”
The word is pronounced something like, well, let’s have an expert help us out:
Indian politician, and noted logophile, Shashi Tharoor made a splash on Twitter this week with an (ironically) obscure word:
To all the well-meaning folks who send me parodies of my supposed speaking/writing style: The purpose of speaking or writing is to communicate w/ precision. I choose my words because they are the best ones for the idea i want to convey, not the most obscure or rodomontade ones!
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) December 13, 2017
That sent many, many people to their dictionaries, with Google trends registering a big spike in lookups for the word after his tweet on Wednesday.
First attested in 1591, a rodomontade is a ‘vainglorious boast’ or ‘extravagant bragging’, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. It went on to describe such acts or speech, as we see in Tharoor’s tweet. The word ultimately comes from Rodomonte, the name of a ‘hot-tempered and boastful character’ in an Italian epic poem, the OED explains.
Finally, the Bitcoin craze hasn’t just been creating unprecedented value in cryptocurrency. It’s also creating new vocabulary: bitshaming. Observe the following interaction on Twitter.
Bitshaming…. and the EXACT thing happened to me earlier. Friend snapped me like “congrats you’re a millionaire!” and i was like… only in my mind….
— Sonny Byrd (@sonnybyrd) December 7, 2017
In the short term, bitshaming – ‘the act of mocking someone who’s been involved in bitcoin for years but isn’t rich’, as Quartz nicely defines it – is providing a useful word for a recent social phenomenon. In the long term, bitshaming is proving the staying power of -shame/-shaming as a productive combining form, e.g., fat-shaming.