Weekly Word Watch: girther, micro-cheating, and cocoliztli
On this week’s Word Watch, we’ve got a million words – or at least a pair of words that was apparently said a million times. We better get started, unless we get to be one of those professional slackers that the travel agency TUI is seeking as fakeation specialists.
White House Dr Ronny Jackson announced President Donald Trump is in excellent health this week, standing at 6 feet 3 inches (~2m) and weighing 239 pounds (~17 stone/~108kg).
But many people questioned these figures, feeling certain that Trump is lugging around a lot more weight. Their skepticism inspired a clever name: the girther movement or girtherism.
Has anyone coined “girther” for those who belive the president weighs more than his doctor reports?
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) January 16, 2018
Girther riffs on birther, the false belief that President Obama was born in Kenya and topic that launched Trump’s own political career. With its conspiratorial -er suffix, girther joins deather (those who doubt the death of Osama bin Laden), healther (those who believed Hillary Clinton was concealing a secret illness during the 2016 election), and the more general truther, essentially a conspiracy theorist.
Not so girthy, as it were, is the latest relationship buzzword: micro-cheating. As psychologist Melanie Schilling defined it for HuffPost Australia: “Micro-cheating is a series of seemingly small actions that indicate a person is emotionally or physically focused on someone outside their relationship.”
In the smartphone era, these actions may especially take the form of secretly texting or direct-messaging another person, saving a contact in a phone under a codename, or privately communicating with ex-partners online. “These are all signs that you are conducting a ‘covert flirtation’ and keeping it from your partner,” Schilling said. “If you feel you have something to hide, ask yourself why.”
The concept, unsurprisingly, has met with defenders and critics alike, but the term does raise some lexical questions. What should we call a full-fledged affair: macro-cheating? Is nano-cheating a mere thought that it unfaithful to one’s partner?
— Dahna M. Chandler (@dahnamchandler) January 12, 2018
As for micro itself, English borrowed the word-forming element, seen widely in scientific words from microscope to microchip, from the Greek mikros, meaning ‘small’.
The internet, no doubt, can make us do strange things. YouTuber Graham The Christian ( Graham Heavenrich), for one, streamed himself saying Gucci Gang one million times.
The phrase comes from the title of a hit single by American rapper Lil Pump, who prominently patters ‘Gucci Gang’ throughout the track. In a recording of his final 1,000 utterances, Heavenrich claims it took him over 17 hours a day for 15 consecutive days.
In his video, the words Gucci Gang become a meaningless mush, a phenomenon psychologist Leon James dubbed semantic satiation.
But Heavenrich wasn’t just testing his lexical limits. His feat reportedly raised over $10,000 for a children’s charity. Seems not all actions speak louder than words.
Speaking of tongue-twisters, scientists this week identified the likely culprit of cocoliztli, the epidemic that wasted 15 million Aztecs between 1545-50 after the arrival of Spanish colonists.
In their native Nahuatl language, Aztec peoples called the devastating epidemic cocoliztli, or ‘pest’. Based on their analysis of ancient DNA, scientists now believe this pest was a strand of salmonella.
Many of us associate salmonella with food poisoning today, which smarts with bitter irony, as the Nahuatl language gave us the names of some of our favourite foods: tomato, avocado, and chocolate.
Le mobile multifonction
The Enrichment Commission for the French Language want to fend off a very different pest: smartphone. These language wardens are prescribing Francophones to use le mobile multifonction, or ‘multifunction cellphone’, instead of its English loanword counterpart in their ongoing, if often futile, efforts to thwart the creep of foreign words into their language.
The commission previously attempted to replace smartphone with ordiphone (from ordinateur, ‘computer’) and terminal de poche (literally, ‘pocket device’). Their latest recommendations also include televiseur connecté (‘connected television’) for smart TV, among other, apparently Frenchier tech-word substitutes. Actual users of French have just ridiculed them.
— Yepzy (@yepzy_) January 12, 2018
Meanwhile, in news of a real crisis, residents of Cape Town, South Africa are hurtling towards Day Zero, or the day the water effectively runs out.
With a three-year-long drought draining the city’s water resources, the government will be forced to turn off people’s taps on 21st April unless people dramatically conserve more water and more rain replenishes reservoirs.
Evoking a doomsday countdown, the phrase Day Zero is indeed ominous one, though city officials are certainly wishing Capetonians were heeding its warning more. Supplies themselves won’t be literally empty, or zero, but critically below capacity for actual use.