Weekly Word Watch: Beast from the East, GMOAT, and Jane Walker
The subzero temperatures haven’t frozen over our word radar in Oxford, but perhaps they’ve made us want to cosy up to just three terms this week. And knitting them together is a pattern of nicknames.
Beast from the East
When severe weather strikes, it seems we’re always prepared – with wordplay. Newspapers dash off punning headlines of ‘Snow Joke’ or ‘Snow Escape’. Tweeters hashtag portmanteaux of #snowpocalypse and #snowmageddon. Irish Twitter even ups the lexical ante with #sneacthageddon, blending that go-to combining form for ‘disaster’, -(ma)geddon, with the Irish for ‘snow’, sneactha.
But this week, our wintry wit has centered on rhyme: the Beast from the East, as we’ve colourfully nicknamed the polar vortex ‘invading’ Europe from Russia.
Amateur weather-watchers started chattering about a possible ‘Beast from the East’ online in late January. As the data firmed up, official forecasters, including the UK’s own Met Office, took to the term:
Easterly winds from Siberia will bring increasingly #cold conditions to northern Europe later this week and during the weekend. Nicknamed the ‘beast from the east’, the coldest air will arrive in the UK by the start of next week https://t.co/mZBMZsujvR pic.twitter.com/PrUybMCEqi
— Met Office (@metoffice) February 20, 2018
The meteorological moniker may sound familiar to many, though, and the Oxford English Dictionary helps us remember why. As the dictionary tweeted out, the Daily Express used the phrase in February 2011 for some frigid weather sweeping in from Russia and Scandinavia:
Followers shivering in sub-zero temperatures in the UK might like to know that #BeastFromTheEast has been in use since at least as early as Feb 2011, when it was used in a Daily Express story about a similar rush of cold air and wintry weather from Russia & Scandinavia that year: pic.twitter.com/PJcCkDb6Cm
— The OED (@OED) March 1, 2018
The Daily Express writers may have been inspired by possibly the nickname of Russian pugilist Nikolai Valuev, who was famously KO’d by British boxer David Haye in their 2009 ‘David vs. Goliath’ fight.
The OED finds an earlier instance in the US in 2003, but notes Siberian Express (1982) is more favoured there.
The UK media didn’t let Beast from the East be a one-off. The press memorably used the expression in 2012, when it spread on social media and was picked up by the Met Office, who even dedicated a sentence in a blog post to ensure readers weren’t confusing this Beast from the East with a 1988 album by American heavy metal band Dokken.
A few days later, the Met Office tried out Pest from the West for heavy rains and strong winds blowing in from the Atlantic. It didn’t catch on, not then or now for Storm Emma. But with all our collective gusting about Beast from the East this year, we should expect more from the nickname in future winters.
The lexical legacy of another boxer has been making word-waves this week.
Ahead of Serena Williams’ return to tournament play after the birth of her daughter, her husband, Alexis Ohanian, took out four billboards en route to the competition in California. Touchingly, they honour his wife not as a tennis titan, but as mother.
Ohanian co-founded Reddit, and clearly knows a thing or two about popular internet acronyms. Next to a picture of Williams holding their child, Alexis Jr., one billboard reads: ‘Serena Williams G.M.O.A.T. – Alexi Jr. + Sr.’.
— Alexis Ohanian Sr. (@alexisohanian) February 27, 2018
G.M.O.A.T. here stands for ‘Greatest Mother of All Time’, a riff on GOAT, an acronym for ‘Greatest of All Time’. One of the many nicknames of boxer Muhammad Ali was ‘The Greatest’, extended to the ‘Greatest of All Time’ since at least 1992 when his wife, Lonnie, incorporated its initialism G.O.A.T for commercial purposes, according to the bloggers at Grammarphobia.
But it was rapper/actor LL Cool J who helped popularize GOAT with his 2000 album G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time), and on the title track, he pronounces it out as goat. The acronym spread in the early 2000s, earning an Urban Dictionary entry by 2003.
Calling an athlete the greatest of all time reaches back in to the early 19th century, but it’s the early 20th century that sees a golden age for GOAT. The acronym is widely referenced in sports journalism, bestowed upon other superstars and public figures, and is used in everyday speech for, well, just about anyone who makes us happy or proud. It’s become common enough, too, to be lowercased as goat in social media, and is often paired or substituted with the Goat emoji.
That Ohanian didn’t have to spell out GMOAT for the abbreviation to work, and quickly inspire #GMOAT online, underscores the familiarity of GOAT in popular culture. And while his use of GMOAT in this way isn’t exactly the very first, his has definitely had the biggest impact, suggesting there will be more GOAT-inspired wordplay to come – and demand for a moat emoji.
It really has been a week of monikers. In time for Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, beverage behemoth Diageo debuted a female version of its long-running ‘Striding Man’, the top-hatted, coat-tailed, riding-booted, and be-caned logo/mascot of its Johnnie Walker brand of Scotch whisky.
Introducing Jane Walker, our new icon that celebrates progress in Women’s Rights. With every step, we all move forward. pic.twitter.com/1YP32odgJk
— Johnnie Walker (@JohnnieWalkerUS) February 26, 2018
Of course, if we don our marketing top-hats, the campaign comes as #MeToo, and thirst for whisky, are booming, as critics have noted.
But if we don our lexical hats, why Jane? Jane is the Everywoman counterpart to the Everyman of John. In fact, Jane itself is the simply a feminine form of the given name John, passing into English from Old French. The Johnnie in Johnnie Walker, for its part, is named for John Walker, the Scottish grocer who started the whisky in 1819.
We can find John used for an ‘average guy’ since the late 1400s, according to the OED. And John Doe, a name for a withheld, unidentified, or otherwise anonymous male party, is found in legal texts as early as 1593; his companion, Jane Doe, is recorded by 1703.
As a stand-in name for a woman, Jane was additionally boosted in US by G.I. Jane, fellow to G.I. Joe, a nickname for an American soldier in World War II.
Whether the branding is an act of opportunism or progressivism, we wouldn’t exactly turn down a tipple of Jane Walker in this nippy weather.