Weekly Word Watch: Windrush generation, dorgi, and Beychella
On this week’s Word Watch, we have controversies, corgis, Coachella, and Kanye. Let’s dig right in.
UK Prime Minister Teresa May is embroiled in a growing controversy over the treatment of what’s called the Windrush generation as longtime British subjects from the Caribbean living in the UK are facing threats of deportation.
Facing labor shortages after the Second World War, the UK looked to its Caribbean colonies, whose residents were newly granted citizenship status under a 1948 law. That year, the government sent the HMT Empire Windrush to Jamaica to bring back nearly 500 Caribbean people, many who were children, to work in England.
This cohort, along with thousands of their peers into the 1970s, were named for the Windrush. The vessel began as the Monte Rosa, a German ship used to transport troops during World War II, before being claimed, and renamed, into British service after the war.
The name Windrush nods to the River Windrush, a tributary of the Thames in the Cotswolds, which winds (twists) through rushes (marshy grasses) – though on the sea the ship certainly rushed through the wind. Use of Windrush to describe the Caribbean transplants is found from the very start. The Oxford English Dictionary cites a headline from a 1948 article in Kingston’s Daily Gleaner not two weeks after the Windrush docked in England: ‘“Windrush” W. Indians get London jobs.’
Almost 70 years to the date later, some of these ‘Windrush W. Indians’ are now at risk of getting sacked from those jobs and social services as the government did not keep adequate documentation of their legal status – and even destroyed historic landing cards in 2010.
On the softer side of UK news, we learned this week that the Queen parted with Willow, her last corgi, making it the first time since the Second World War the breed hasn’t trotted beside Her Majesty.
Corgis hail from a long lineage of cattle-herding dogs in Wales, a history reflected in their very name: corgi literally means ‘dwarf dog’ in Welsh, joining cor ‘dwarf’ and gi, from ci, ‘dog’. The OED attests the breed name in the 1920s. It also includes a subsequent citation, from the 1952 Pembrokeshire Corgi Handbook, that may rank among one of its most delightful: ‘The plural of Corgi is Corgwn and not Corgis’. Indeed, corgi experts and enthusiasts insist on corgwn, pronounced like korgun, as the proper plural of corgi, based on the etymological plural of its root, ci. We’ll permit, nay, join the pedantry on this one.
Corgwn is almost charming as the name for the Queen’s remaining canine companions: the dorgi, a cross between a dachshund and corgi in both word and DNA. The term is evidenced since at least the 1980s.
#TheQueen’s last corgi, Willow, has been put to sleep, aged 14. She was descended from HM’s very first dog, Susan. The Queen‘s reported to have found the loss “extremely hard.” She still has two dorgis (corgi/dachshund cross): Vulcan and Candy. https://t.co/vXEfLx0adh
— James Brookes (@jamesbrookes_) April 17, 2018
Pormanteaus – or portmanteaux, if we’re going with native plurals – are no stranger to the kennel. For as much as we over-breed words in today’s lexical zeitgeist (see avocard), dog hybrid names achieve, for one, a genetic verisimilitude and, for another, a tweeness perhaps more appropriate to the topic. Consider the bagel, or basset hound beagle mix. Or the hug, husky-pug. Or the classic cockapoo, or cocker spaniel-poodle.
And as it happens, the word dorgi already has a meaning in Welsh. It means ‘water dog’, a form of the word for otter. No, folks, you just can’t make this stuff up.
Dorgi is cute, but it was another blend that stole its spotlight this week: #Beychella, the term for Beyoncé’s acclaimed performance on Saturday, 14 April at Coachella, the music festival named after the Southern California dessert.
The hashtag, and blend, was well deserved. First, it was the most viewed live-streamed music festival performance in YouTube history. Second, it was also the first time a black woman headlined Coachella, which has become a trendy, taste-making showcase for fashion, music, and youth culture more generally in recent years.
Third, as we’ve amply noted, we live in the age of the blended word. In sound and sense, they signal novelty and uniqueness, perhaps so often employed as a way to cut through all the noise of so much information and content in our online lives.
Beychella, though, may be more than just another portmanteau. It may mark the marriage of two libfixes, as linguistic Arnold Zwicky has termed a part of a word that, as the result of such frequent blending, have become freed up as a meaningful combining form all its own. The classic example is the ‘scandalous’ -gate, as we recently saw in another Beyoncé affair, Bitegate.
Chella, a colloquial clipping of Coachella among festival-goers, has been popularly and variously fused into brochella, featuring a derisive bro, and baechella, often used when one is in attendance with their bae, slang for a ‘romantic partner’. Chella seems primed to follow in the footsteps of -palooza (e.g., pizzapalooza), popularized as a combining form for an ‘outstanding event’ after the 1990s–2000s music festival Lollapalooza.
And as many Beyoncé fans have observed, baechella is not properly pronounced the same way as Beychella. The former has a long A, the latter a long E, after the sound of the artist’s name. Such observers are often said to number among the Beyhive, the nickname for Beyoncé fandom punning on beehive headed by Queen Bey (queen bee).
— Lauryn🍒 (@Laurynmberix) April 15, 2018
Between Beyhive and Beychella, and with the influential singer already familiarly and affectionately referred to as Bey, will Beyoncé make further history by adding Bey- to the family of free-floating word forms in our lexicon? This would mark a rare, name-based instance, with only the fictional Franken- (from Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein) immediately coming to mind.
Speaking of live-streaming, celebrities, and combining forms, Kanye West – unless you’ve been living under a rock or wish to return to it – has been writing a philosophy book ‘in real time’ on Twitter.
oh by the way this is my book that I’m writing in real time. No publisher or publicist will tell me what to put where or how many pages to write. This is not a financial opportunity this is an innate need to be expressive.
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 18, 2018
Some publications, though, have found another perhaps more economical way to describe ‘the act of writing a book in real time’: live-writing.
— W magazine (@wmag) April 19, 2018
We can find occasional instances of live-writing in reference to real-time writing that professional or aspiring authors may do on social media. It draws on earlier, though still recent, formations like live-stream and live-tweet.
Given his prominence, Kanye’s efforts may give a term like live-writing some future currency. In the very least, they show that the live, while long used in the language for something in ‘real time’ (live TV), is increasingly signifying something ‘done online or over social media without any editorial meditation’.
And in this way, live stands to create more and more retronyms, a term for a word created to distinguish a newer form of something from its older, original form, e.g., acoustic guitar for guitar. We can write a book, but if we live-write one, then we’re composing and publishing its contents, without any gatekeeping, for all to see in real time. It’s a subtle distinction, but one couldn’t release material in this manner before the technology of the internet, hence the need for a differentiating term, or retronym.
Now, Kanye may also be redefining what a book is, but we’ll save that for another time.