Weekly Word Watch: super blue blood moon, Kardashianism, and Truth Decay
This week, orcas have been chattering all about hello, bye bye, one two, and Amy, as researchers discovered that killer whales can imitate human speech. On our latest Weekly Word Watch, though, it’s lunar rarities, Hindi winners, and keeping up with Kardashianism:
Super blue blood moon
There’s a supermoon. There’s a blue moon. There’s a blood moon. Then there’s – oh, why don’t we just smash all three together – a super blue blood moon.
NASA called the 31st January super blue blood moon, variously viewable during the day from Moscow to Melbourne to Miami, a ‘lunar trifecta’. It’s a supermoon because of its closeness to Earth in its orbit, or perigee. It’s a blue moon because it’s the second full moon of the month, as the colourful term so denotes. Then, as it passes through the earth’s shadow in a lunar eclipse, it will take on a reddish hue, called a blood moon – a term which, coincidentally, was added to the Oxford English Dictionary just this week.
‘Blood moon’ has been added to the OED in today’s update, joining ‘super moon’ and ‘blue moon’. (‘Super blue blood moon’, meanwhile, is being tracked.) See our full list of new words here:https://t.co/nGuYr4YojJ https://t.co/UJOvNUwmVI
— The OED (@OED) January 30, 2018
The super blue blood moon is a rare event, with all conditions not aligning since 1866. It’s also a rare combination of words, one apparently not meaningfully lining up since, well, the super blue blood moon of January 2018.
Elsewhere in space, the New Zealand-based ‘cosmo-preneurs’ at Rocket Lab launched an unusual satellite this past week. They call it the Humanity Star, a 65-sided geodesic polyhedron whose reflective lights will make it the brightest object in the night sky during its nine-month orbit. Astronomers have other names for it, such as vandalism, disco ball, space garbage, and a cheesy stunt. California Institute of Technology astronomer Mike Brown decried the Humanity Star as ‘space graffiti’ (no offense meant to the 2000 album by the Plastic Avengers of the same name):
— Mike Brown (@plutokiller) January 24, 2018
Rocket Lab thinks the Humanity Star will offer a ‘shared experience for everyone on the planet’ and serve as ‘a reminder to all on Earth about our fragile place in the universe’. Scientists worry its light will disrupt their research, set precedents for the further commercialization of space, and, as Brown’s vivid epithet of space graffiti memorably suggests, detract from the natural wonders of firmament.
Some scientists might have Humanity Stars banned from the heavens, but Continental, a bar in the New York City, would have ‘literally’ banned from its premises. It posted a sign that created quite a stir online, and it also created a problematic buzzword, Kardashianism:
— evgrieve (@evgrieve) January 24, 2018
Writing for The Cut, lexicographer and author Kory Stamper noted the ignorance of the bar’s stance towards literally, which has been used figuratively since at least the 1760s. But she locates the crux of the outrage in the term Kardashianism:
‘Kardashianism’ here, of course, refers to the speech patterns of the people in Keeping Up With the Kardashians, most of whom are young women. The emphatic ‘literally’ shows up in their dialogue a fair bit, enough that it’s often highlighted in articles or lists about the language of the Kardashians. It’s guilt by association: Because the Kardashians are seen as risible, so, too, is the language that the Kardashians typically use.
By Kardashianism, Continental’s owner evidently means a ‘mindless way of speaking marked by a overuse and misuse and believed to be ruining the English language’, but, thanks to its implicit sexism and ageism, the term has backfired. With its ideological suffix of -ism, maybe Kardashianism will become a useful term for ‘the hatred of the speech of young women’.
Speaking of identity, Oxford Dictionaries announced its first ever Hindi Word of the Year this weekend: aadhaar. Literally meaning ‘base’ or ‘foundation’ in modern Hindi and deriving from Sanskrit, Aadhaar is also the name of the unique 12-digit identification number assigned to all residents of Indian, with over 1.2 billion individuals enrolled. The notion, evidently, is that the Aadhaar number serves as a kind of basis for the Indian citizen’s official identity in society.
The first-ever Oxford Dictionaries Hindi Word of the Year is… AADHAAR!
— Oxford Dictionaries (@OxfordWords) January 27, 2018
The Indian government instituted Aadhaar in hopes of reducing fake and duplicate identities and better implementing social benefits, but the system has raised significant concerns about privacy and security, as Danica Salazar explains on the blog. Runners-up included bahubali (loosely, ‘a powerful or influential figure’, featured in popular films of the same name), vikaas (‘development’, a political buzzword much mocked in memes), and yoga.
In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries named post-truth as its Word of the Year. Fake news multiply claimed that honour in 2017. Now, the researchers at the US-based RAND Corporation continue to add to our language of fact and fiction. They recently released an extensive report on what they call truth decay. Authors Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael D. Rich define truth decay as ‘a set of four related trends’:
increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data; a blurring of the line between opinion and fact; an increase in the relative volume, and resulting influence, of opinion and personal experience over fact; and declining trust in formerly respected sources of factual information.
Kavanagh and Rich identify four main ‘drivers’ of truth decay:
cognitive bias, changes in the information system (including the rise of social media and the 24-hour news cycle), competing demands on the educational system that limit its ability to keep pace with changes in the information system, and political, sociodemographic, and economic polarization.
It’s a striking phrase, truth decay, but it isn’t quite new. Outside of punny titles of articles on dental health, we can find truth decay used in discussions of threats to Christian faith and values in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Still, we’ll be watching if the RAND Corporation’s report, though, drives its truth decay into the broader public discourse.
But God help us if the orcas start shouting ‘Fake news!’