Weekly Word Watch: crisis actor, Mad Max, and creme
KFC shuttered hundreds of its restaurants across the UK this week after a shortage of chicken. There was no shortage of wordplay following the closures, however, with the media seizing the opportunity to pun on foul-play, peckish, and clucking in their reports.
There was also no shortage of words to watch this week:
One motivation behind Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2017, youthquake, was aspirational. As President of Dictionaries Casper Grathwohl explained the selection, ‘[A]t a time when our language is reflecting a deepening unrest and exhausted nerves, it is a rare political word that sounds a hopeful note’.
Grathwohl may just be seeing that youthquake in the US just two months into 2018. Following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, teenagers launched the #NeverAgain movement to change gun laws, staging lie-ins, and school walkouts as they rally at state houses across the country.
One of the most powerful voices in this movement – and survivor of the horror at his secondary school – is 17-year-old David Hogg. As if he hasn’t endured enough, certain right-wing media have, unconscionably, been been falsely claiming Hogg and his peers aren’t victims but ‘crisis actors’ directed by wealthy liberal activists to undermine gun rights.
A ‘crisis actor’, here, is meant to refer a performer who portrays the victim of a disaster during training drills. Such roleplayers are real, though evidence for actual use of ‘crisis actor’ for them is limited. (Since at least the 1970s, the phrase has had unrelated use in political scholarship to refer to a party threatened into action, especially during an international conflict.)
The main currency of ‘crisis actor’, rather, appears to be among internet conspiracy theorists who believe some ‘deep state’ has faked a tragedy, including use of victim actors, for some nefarious end. The phrase began to spread in 2013 after ‘truthers’ began to think the US government fabricated the December 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School to restrict guns.
‘Crisis actor’ has reared its ugly head again with the Parkland shooting, and amid an epidemic of trutherism and mass shootings in the US, we should be on the lookout for a rise of the conspiratorial code word. But not if #NeverAgain gets its say.
What a relief, many political observers joked this week, the UK won’t be ‘plunged into a Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction’, as David Davis characterized critics’ fears of Brexit at a speech in Vienna this week.
Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, didn’t exactly inspire optimism in the many who are concerned about the UK’s fate under Brexit. But he did inspire plenty of hot takes and humour on the internet – including, yep, #MadMaxit.
His anarchical wasteland allusion wasn’t quite novel, however. The first Mad Max film, which premiered in 1979, quickly compelled use of its title and protagonist’s nickname as an attribution for vehicles, clothing, environments, and ideas that resemble its dystopia. The Oxford English Dictionary, for instance, cites a 1986 article in Brisbane’s Courier-Mail about an advertising campaign depicting people in ‘Mad Max gear’ to scare up greater police presence in Sydney.
The bleak future envisioned by Mad Max continues to captivate our imaginations – and colour our political rhetoric.
Another film has been dominating the headlines, and box office, this week: Black Panther. It’s proving to be a truly global sensation, but many viewers in India felt they didn’t get a full experience of the film.
Reports say India’s Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) censored reference to a Hindu god in subcontinental screenings. At one point in Black Panther, Jabari tribe leader M’Baku (Winston Duke) extols ‘Glory to Hanuman!’
The Jabari worship a gorilla god, which filmmakers apparently opted to call Hanuman, a nod to a popular deity in Hinduism who takes the form of a monkey and is revered for his strength and loyalty. Hanuman, whose exact origins are unclear but whose place in Hinduism is rich and complex, is also often depicted as white, perhaps a further allusion to the powerful role white-furred gorillas play for M’Baku and the Jabari in the comic series.
It seems the CBFC, however, did not want to risk offending any religious sensibilities in India, though many Black Panther fans there expressed excitement to encounter one of their holy figures on the big screen. The move may follow the row over Padmaavat, originally titled Padmaavati until the CBFC clipped the final vowel. Padmavati was a legendary 14th-century Indian queen held sacred to Rajput Indians.
All it takes is a typo. On Tuesday, a tweeter @’d the chocolate confectioners at Cadbury about whether to pronounce its Easter-time favourite Creme Egg like ‘cream’ or ‘crem’. But @CadburyUK’s social media manager ended up not being so helpful, as it replied ‘crem’ in a since-deleted tweet.
Twitter lost its, er, creme, with all some hilarious mock-outrage and brilliant retorts:
Shocked to hear that Cadbury want us to pronounce Creme Egg like Scone, rather than like Scone.
— BanJon (@beardybanjo) February 20, 2018
@sophie_gadd we all know that “creme” is pronounced “crem” except when you put “egg” after it. That’s the rule.
— Zofia Skrakowski (@ZofiaMS) February 20, 2018
Within hours of its tweet, Cadbury soon put its phonetic humpty dumpty back together:
Looks like we missed out the ‘a’ there! Most definitely pronounced as ‘Cream’ egg! 😁
— Cadbury UK (@CadburyUK) February 20, 2018
But why is it spelled creme, then? This creme comes from the French crème, borrowed in English in the 19th century for creamy, custard-like sweets (e.g. crème brûlée) and syrupy liqueurs (e.g. crème de menthe). Crème means ‘cream’ in French, and an older form of the word in the language gives English that very cream.
Among the oldest sense of the words cream and creme in English, around the early 1300s, was ‘holy oil’. For the French crème was apparently influenced by the Latin chrisma, ‘ointment’. Source of the word chrism, Latin’s chrisma comes from a Greek root meaning ‘to anoint’ and that also supplies Christ (literally the ‘anointed one’). Some etymologists speculate the French crème was also shaped by a Gaulish word for ‘cream’.