Weekly Word Watch: Sleep-tweeting, Toblerone tunnel, and Spider-Man
On this May-ending instalment of the Weekly Word Watch, our words are inspired by social media at its foulest, finest, and daftest.
Twitter has proved again it has the power to change the course of events. Well, actually, racism and Islamophobia took care of that this time.
In a tweet this week, comedian Roseanne Barr called Valerie Jarrett, former advisor to Barack Obama, a cross between ‘the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes’. The remark sparked immediate outcry. It also prompted the swift cancellation of the hit reboot of her show, Roseanne, by the ABC television network, who denounced Barr’s tweet as ‘abhorrent’ and ‘repugnant’.
Twitter did again demonstrate, though, that it is changing our language. Barr returned to the social media platform to blame her outburst on ‘Ambien tweeting’, referring to a popular sleep aid known for its side effects. In response, doctors acknowledged that a powerful sedative like Ambien can induce unrestrained behaviours like ‘sleep-tweeting’ or ‘sleep-texting’ – but not racism.
Ambien has quite a few side effects but racism isn’t one of them. Even if Roseanne wanted to claim she had an Ambien blackout and was sleep tweeting, that racism had to come from somewhere deep within.
— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) May 30, 2018
Ambien tweeting riffs on a Twitter verb like live-tweeting, or ‘posting commentary about an event while it’s happening’. A term evidenced since 2007, sleep-tweeting, or ‘unconscious tweeting in one’s sleep’, joins a family of parasomniacs like sleep-eating, sleep-driving, sleep-talking, and even sleep-shopping and sleep-killing. Their parent is sleep-walking, whose earliest form, sleepwalker, is recorded in the 1740s.
Social media, no doubt, compels all sorts of behaviours. Another platform, Instagram, turned heads this week with reports of a growing trend in which young women post pictures showing off the triangular shape of their thigh gap, dubbed the Toblerone tunnel due to the space’s resemblance to the Swiss chocolate brand. (Fun fact: The name Toblerone is a blend of Tobler, surname of its inventor, and torrone, an Italian honey-nougat confection.)
While the craze may be new to Instagram, the term Toblerone tunnel well predates it. A user on Urban Dictionary, often an indicator for the spread of slang, first entered Toblerone tunnel for this thigh gap in 2007. Many have directly decried the Toblerone tunnel for the harmful expectations of beauty of body it places on women. Others criticized the craze with humour, locating the Toblerone tunnel elsewhere in the human anatomy.
Yeah I’ve got a toblerone tunnel….otherwise known as my throat 🤭 #tobleronetunnel
— Tabatha Smithson (@tabathalouise) May 22, 2018
For our part, we’re going to stick with a different Insta-fad: the chinfie, or the pointedly unflattering ‘chin selfies’ of Michelle Liu.
In response to a request from London’s Metropolitan Police, YouTube has taken down over 30 ‘drill videos’. Linked by the Met to a surge in knife crimes, the set of videos contain graphically violent and gang-related lyrics and imagery.
Drill refers to a subgenre of trap music, a style of rap marked by dark sounds and themes. Dated to AAVE (African-American Vernacular English) in the 1990s, trap is a slang term for a place where drugs are dealt, likely drawing on an older use of trap as a hiding-place for drugs.
While trap focuses on drugs, drill is concerned with violence. It originates in Woodlawn, a neighbourhood in the South Side of the Chicago, notorious for street gangs, drug-dealing, and poverty. With the scene pioneered by rapper Pacman in the 2000s, the name drill ostensibly draws on drill as a long-running slang for ‘shooting’, perhaps reinforced by the rapid-fire sound of the electric tool.
Drill took root in the London’s Brixton area in the 2010s. There, as in Chicago, the music has been a cultural flashpoint. Artists argue the music exposes the harsh realities of black urban poverty. Critics maintain it only glamourises them, encouraging violence through the influence of social media.
Social media isn’t all grim. Millions of us watched in amazement this week a viral video of a young man, Mamoudou Gassama, scaling four storeys to rescue a child dangling from a balcony in Paris.
Spider-Man is a black undocumented migrant from Mali. pic.twitter.com/Xrwietlatd
— Amarnath Amarasingam (@AmarAmarasingam) May 28, 2018
Gassama’s courageous, gravity-defying feat earned him the nickname Spider-Man, a comparison to the arachnid, altruistic acrobatics of the Marvel Comics superhero. It also earned him, an immigrant from Mali, French citizenship, a move which raised the treatment of other Muslim and African migrants in the country. The child, it was reported, was wearing Spider-Man outfit, an apt resonance for the story. But there’s more.
Stan Lee created his Spider-Man in 1962, the character inspired by 1930s pulp-fiction crime-fighter named Spider and name-nodding to Superman. Lee was not, apparently, thinking of the 1950s spider-man, a slang name for agile and high-climbing steel-erectors, those steeplejacks of the 20th century.
Nor was he thinking, among other various and early spider-men that have captured our literary imaginations, of Reverend C.W. Denison’s 1856 spider man, a poetical figure of a greedy, illicit stockbroker:
Would you behold this spider man?
This human snake would you see?
Go forth and the money changers scan —
The kerbstone Broker is he?
Social media, as we’ve seen, can capture us at our best and our worst. It can also capture us at our weirdest… or at least stunt-iest.
For gobbling up our social media attention today – National Doughnut Day in the US, which actually has a long and venerable history predating our many gimmicky internet celebrations – Burger King is selling Whopper Donuts at a few locations.
The Whopper Donut cuts out the center of its signature hamburger, making it resemble a doughnut and transforming the hole into a ‘mini slider’.
Sorry, Burger King (and our friends at Merriam-Webster): a donut is not a sandwich. But thanks for not naming it something like the Whoughnut or Dopper.