Weekly Word Watch: lip bite, laze, and oomf
Let’s fly our ‘Brexit plane’ straight off the runway with this week’s watch of the words – beginning with something decidedly nonverbal.
At her wedding last weekend, Megan Markle looked absolutely stunning. Prince Harry certainly thought so, too. The internet noticed, and needed something much stronger than a Megharryccino to handle what it called ‘the lip bite’.
— Jasmyn Lawson (@JasmynBeKnowing) May 19, 2018
The lip bite is one hot number. In the facial expression, a person lightly places their upper teeth on the bottom lip, often in a subconscious register of passion and attraction though sometimes deliberately in a sexy or flirtatious pose.
Of course, the meaning of this gesture isn’t universal. Some people bite their lip in this manner when intensely concentrating, for instance, as well as feeling nervous or coy. Still, it seems the phrase lip bite has now fully arrived as the go-to term for Harry’s variety of swoon-inducing mouth-work – and much needed answer to the more skeptical side eye of mid-2010s. (Um, when are we getting the lip bite emoji, Unicode?)
Instances of this lip bite start surfacing on Twitter in 2009, not before observers of nonverbal communication, though, who’ve been using the term lip bite for various facial expressions since at least the 1970s.
But like side eye, whose record looks back to the late 18th century, lip bite also makes a surprisingly early appearance. In a section on Pontypool, Wales, the 1869 History of Monmouthshire quotes some humorous verse on how a bold resident challenged the devil to build the town bridge. In the poem, the devil, takes umbrage at the man’s ‘unparliamentary’ language of all things, ‘bridled up tight and…with a slight / Quiver of the nostril and nether-lip-bite’.
This lip bite, apparently, suggests some choice words unfit for a Duchess.
This week, Hawaii holidaymakers found plenty of laze – just not the kind they were looking for.
On Hawaii’s Big Island, the Kilauea volcano has been erupting for weeks. Its lava has been blazing a path to the Pacific Ocean, where it’s boiling the water into an ashy steam of ‘lava haze’, or laze. The plumes can damage the lungs and harm the skin, not to mention cause acid rain and air pollution.
It’s an ironic word, laze, recorded in Honolulu headlines since at least 1990, a coinage by area geologists and modeled on another Polynesian portmanteau, vog, or ‘volcanic fog’. Used in the Honolulu Advertiser since 1969, toxic vog resembles, in form and substance, that original environmental blend word, smog (smoke and fog), suffocating us as early as 1905. The verb laze, for its part, showcases a different type of word process: back-formation. Laze was shortened from the adjective lazy by the 1590s.
We owe many other everyday words to back-formation, including edit (from editor) and greed (from greedy). Back-formation has not been lazy in contemporary language, producing the likes of early-vote and relationship-build from their longer, compounded, gerundial parents.
Another productive word-formation process is the acronym, an abbreviation of the initial letters of a term or phrase and pronounced as word, such as scuba or NASA. NHS and FBI are technically classified as initialisms, as the letters are said separately.
Initialisms have been very successful in the digital age, from LOL to TBH to WTF. One, IMHO, divided the internet recently on whether it stood for in my humble or honest opinion. (IMHO, it’s humble, folks.)
Acronyms have also gotten some attention, like YOLO, MAGA, or this week, OOMF. Don’t know what OOMF stands for? Well, don’t feel tragically unhip, because neither did Ariana Grande, who tweeted her delight when she learned it’s an acronym for one of my followers or friends on social media.
just learned what ‘oomf’ means. watch out twitter.
— Ariana Grande (@ArianaGrande) May 20, 2018
We can forgive her (our) ignorance. For one, internet slang seems to move as fast as the technology that drives it. Consider a snap, or ‘a message sent on Snapchat’, or to @, the symbol emerging as a verb for ‘mentioning someone on social media’, particularly Twitter.
For another, internet writing favors the convenience and casualness of the lowercase, camouflaging acronyms for those who aren’t in the know. Many acronyms, though, have become so common we write them as normal words. Laser and radar join scuba as examples.
What’s more, the text-speak of oomf competes with the imitative oomph, a colloquial expression for ‘energy, vigour, or power’. The Oxford English Dictionary establishes it for ‘sexual appeal’ in the 1930s, noting a likely antecedent. It also enters oomf as a variant form, still found today, though sometimes meant as oof.
Internet acronyms are tricky to track down, but oomf appears on Twitter as a hashtag since at least 2011, earning an entry on Urban Dictionary the following month. It spread as a way to criticize someone without directly naming them – a phenomenon that’s given us another new word, subtweet, as the practice originated on Twitter.
Finally, as an outbreak of Ebola is claiming lives in the Congo, another virus – just as deadly but less familiar – is spreading in the Indian state of Kerala.
It’s called the Nipah virus, commonly shortened to NiV. The Nipah virus is a zoonosis, a disease that spreads from animals to humans, usually fruit bats. It also can infect livestock like pigs, which is how it was first transmitted to Homo sapiens in 1998. According to the World Health Organization, the Nipah virus was first identified that year among pig farmers in a river village in southwest Malaysia called Kampung Sungai Nipah, hence its name.
In Malay, kampung means ‘village’, sungai is ‘river’, and nipah, at least as this author ventures into Oxford’s dictionaries, refers to a kind of palm tree whose leaves are used to thatch roofs, but we’ll leave it to native Malaysians to weigh in on the town’s name.