Weekly Word Watch: tender age shelter, gaming disorder, and donug
On this week’s Word Watch, we have a full lexical lineup: euphemisms, neologisms, nomenclatures, and portmanteaux. Let’s get to it.
Tender age shelter
Outrage erupted this week at US President Donald Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy of separating families seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border. So, too, did semantic debate.
Reports and photographs from Southern Texas showed children, some as young as toddlers, held in metal enclosures, wailing in trauma. Questions arose as to what to call these fixtures. Many news outlets called them ‘cages’; some pundits objected, taking to ‘chain-link partitions’ instead. On social media, others compared the US detention centres to ‘concentration camps’ or ‘internment camps’; meanwhile, one commentator likened them to ‘boarding schools’ and ‘summer camps’.
If we turn to the Oxford English Dictionary, the noun cage is currently defined there as: A box or place of confinement for birds and other animals (or, in barbarous times, for human beings), made wholly or partly of wire, or with bars of metal or wood, so as to admit air and light, while preventing the creature’s escape.
This was not the only area of semantic discussion, however. The Associated Press then learned from officials that the government had opened multiple ‘shelters’ for ‘tender age’ children; shelter suggesting safety and refuge, and ‘tender age’ – recorded in the 1400s – evoking youthful vulnerability in need of warm love and care.
The public was not deaf to the Orwellian euphemism of tender age shelter. As linguist John McWhorter cut through for CNN: ‘The purpose of such language is to mask the cruel detention of these bewildered children in internment compounds, done in an effort to penalize their parents for attempting to enter America, some illegally.’
Words have the power to obscure, as a phrase like tender age shelter reveals – but they also have the power to reveal exactly how we feel.
These trying times can make us seek escape. For many, that takes the form of video, computer, smartphone, or other digital games. The World Health Organization (WHO), however, cautioned against too much of such a pastime this week.
To the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases (IDC-11), the WHO is adding what it is calling gaming disorder. The IDC-11 draft definition reads:
…a pattern of gaming behavior…characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.
Experts certainly agree that there many serious risks from heavy use of digital technology, including games. But WHO aside, many addiction and mental health researchers aren’t ready to classify gaming disorder as just that – a fully-fledged disorder. Though with red flags already raised, they call for more studies and better diagnostics before rendering gaming disorder official.
One thing is for sure, though. Technology is that endless font of language innovation, not only for its products (e.g. Memoji) and functions (e.g. oomf) but also for how it affects our very lives. Alongside the milder likes of phubbing, gaming disorder is just one of the more alarming entries into our growing digital lexicon of the human-tech interface.
The news is so breakneck these days that the presidency of Barack Obama, say, feels like eons ago. That’s not exactly inaccurate, as scientists named a newly discovered organism after the 44th president of the US. It already has a Twitter account.
University of California-Riverside paleontologists Pete Dzaugis and Mary Droser, among other others, christened this benthic, Ediacaran torus-shaped being Obamus coronatus. That means it’s a bottom-dwelling, doughnut-resembling creature from over 500 million years ago.
The organism’s torus form doesn’t just resemble a donut, apparently. (Coronatus means ‘crowned’ or ‘wreathed’, in reference to its ring shape.) Droser also told The Washington Post that the organism ‘first reminded researchers of Obama because it resembles an ear – one of the former president’s distinctive traits’, Alex Horton writes.
The name also honors Obama’s support for science, a distinction also extended to another animal the California researchers discovered: Attenborites janeae, just the latest in a line of the great naturalist David Attenborough’s binomial namesakes. Don’t feel left out, though, Trump. Thanks to its tufted hair, the name of Neopalpa donaldtrumpi moth is fashioned in your image.
Speaking of things shaped like doughnuts, we can’t resist a food portmanteau. On this Word Watch alone, we’ve witnessed everything from the avocard to crossushi, from the babyccino to the Megharryccino – and none of this is to mention the unblended likes of cocktail avocado and Whopper Donut.
Now, behold the donug. The donug is a chicken nugget shaped like a doughnut, hence the name. This Frankenword Frankenfood was concocted by Scottish-born, Melbourne-based chef Crag Carrick. His breaded, deep-fried, sauce-topped creation has been gaining attention since he successfully pitched it on Australia’s Shark Tank (like Dragon’s Den in the UK) this month.
Will the donug go viral like the cronut? The proof of the pudding, of course, is in the eating. But as far trends go, Carrick knows that a novelty food just has to have a novelty name.